Thursday, December 24, 2015

Unforced Errors

Politics is a difficult game. There are many ways to go wrong. But just as professional football players make fewer unforced errors than amateurs, so one expects professional politicians to acquire over the course of their careers some skill at the mechanics of the game.

The Hollande administration has been disappointing in many ways, but its unforced errors are painful to watch. The last in the series, concerning the amending of the constitution to permit stripping naturalized dual nationals to be stripped of their French citizenship if involved in terrorism, has been appalling in every way. It was an error of principle to begin with, but then it devolved into a series of basic tactical errors, all unforced.

The error of principle was to have considered stripping nationality in the first place. The use of this instrument against naturalized French Jews under Vichy should have been enough to discredit it. The fact that it was proposed as a weapon against "insecurity" (and not just terrorism) by the right--indeed, by the FN before Sarkozy--and opposed by the left before Nov. 13 should have been further reason not to surrender to--unnecessary and totally futile--expediency in order to demonstrate resolve after the latest terror attacks. It is fundamentally wrong to make two classes of French citizens--the authentic aborigines, as it were, and the rest, subject to different and unequal treatment under the law. It was a decision that should never have been announced, no matter what the provocation--and I concede that the provocation of Nov. 13 could not be ignored. But there were other ways to respond, and Hollande availed himself of some of his many options--more serious options than this ridiculous symbolic gesture, which will hardly deter anyone bent on murder and mayhem. He should have left this one alone and stuck with declarations of a state of emergency and a state of war--surely potent enough gestures in response to any level of provocation or threat.

But having announced the decision in a solemn session of the full congress (National Assembly and Senate) in a special session at Versailles, of all places, it should have been a decision actually taken at the highest level of government and not a talking point still to be kicked around among the various ministries. And if it had been presented as a decision taken at the highest level for the most solemn of reasons--an imminent threat to the security of the state--ministers should have been instructed to suck it up or quit. "Un ministre, ça ferme sa gueule or ça démissionne," as J.-P. Chévenement once said. Christiane Taubira should not have been allowed to speak as though she were countermanding a presidential order, and if it was in fact an order and she spoke out of turn, she should have been fired on the spot.

So now, once again, Hollande looks both inept and unprincipled, incompetent and uncommitted to one of the fundamental values of the left. This was not an error forced on him by circumstances. It was an error induced by his predilection for the path of least resistance, his readiness to retreat at the first sign of opposition, and his inattention to the details of governing. Taken together, these failings explain why his presidency has been such a depressing spectacle.