Monday, January 30, 2017


I have been reading the Davet-Lhomme tome Un président ne devrait pas dire ça. It's difficult to say whether the portrait of Hollande that emerges from this book reflects the pettiness of its subject or the pettiness of the portraitists. There is not a hint of grandeur in this chronicle of a quinquennat, not a moment of lofty reflection or breadth of social or geopolitical vision. The politician depicted in these pages might have been an obscure député from Corrèze in the Third Republic; it is impossible to see him as a successor of Charles de Gaulle.

For me, the reason for the failure of Hollande's presidency stands most clearly revealed on p. 112, where our two chroniclers record the president's joy as he pores over the organigramme of the new government to be put in place after a remaniement:

Il faut entendre le chef de l'État nous expliquer, la mine gourmande, l'oeil scintillant, comment il a composé lui-même, sur un bout de papier, en mars 2014, le gouvernement Valls I, dans le secret de son bureau. ... Dix-huit noms à trouver ... et deux schémas différents, selon que les écologistes acceptent de cohabiter avec Manuel Valls ou non.
Pas de doute, c'est pour ces instants-là qu'il a voulu faire de la politique. Et devenir président de la République, le décideur ultime, celui qui tire les ficelles.
There you have it. This is why François Hollande went into politics, why he coveted the role of "decider": to apportion "power" among the various factions of a fractious coalition, to dribble out risible bits of influence to the ecologists if they throw in their lot with Valls or to withhold those same bits if they don't, to offer them instead to some other aspirant whose greatest desire in life is to hold un maroquin and be driven about Paris in an official car with a motorcycle escort.

What might such ministers want to accomplish? What ultimate goal might such a president want to achieve with such a team? The subject does not come up, except as it might on the 8 o'clock news, as a criterion to be met in order to renew the lease on the office for another five years. If "the famous unemployment curve" should be inverted, it is not because the president burns to reduce the suffering of the unemployed but because he has made this the condition of his re-election bid.

Perhaps François Hollande is a better man than he appears in this book, but then he is a fool to have sat for such a portrait at the hands of such paltry painters.

Interpreting Hamon's Win

In The American Prospect. A little teaser: "It is nearly 50 years since I first set foot in France, and I have been returning to the country regularly ever since. The sights and sounds of Paris still exhilarate me: the purposeful clackety-clack of the low-heeled boots of long-legged women hastening toward the “mouth” of the Metro; the clatter of china and hiss of the espresso machine mingled with the laughter and chatter of a busy café; the fragrance of a truffade simmering in a parabola of cantal and crème fraîche on the rue Mouffetard; the joy of small children, cartables strapped to their backs, running down a cobblestone street as fast as their little legs will carry them to rejoin their classmates in the school courtyard before the raucous bell signals the start of the day. Just down the same street is a plaque indicating the place where Hemingway partook of the movable feast, a short walk from where, centuries earlier, Descartes pondered the cogito and around the corner from where Valéry Larbaud hosted James Joyce as he put the finishing touches on Ulysses."