François Hollande the Pacifier
François Hollande was elected president of France on May 6 with a score of 51.6% to Nicolas Sarkozy's 48.4%. It was not the landslide that had been predicted before the first round, and it was not the photo-finish upset I had guessed at (or wished for) in my article. Officially inaugurated on May 15, President Hollande named Jean-Marc Ayrault as prime minister and took off for a rendez-vous with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. His plane was struck by lightning -- no joke -- and had to turn back. He arrived late, had to endure a formal welcome in a chilly drizzle, and stumbled through protocol, politely nudged and elbowed along the red carpet by his graceful hostess. Predictions, for what they are worth, are that Hollande and Merkel will reach a face-saving compromise. He will back down on his refusal to ratify the Eurozone austerity plan, and she will offer some sort of growth rider to placate the masses.
Meanwhile, sunny Greece is in free-fall and may or may not leave the Eurozone. The dollar-euro rate went from $1.33 to $1.27. François Hollande is visiting Barack Obama. And French media are torn between underwriting the promise of a giant Euro-wide shift away from austerity and an inkling that no one will pay for Hollande's "New Deal" of growth by public works projects.
Just before the president of France left for the United States, he and the prime minister presented their "exemplary" government: seventeen men, seventeen women, and a strong dose of diversities. The Franco-Moroccan Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is promoted from campaign spokeswoman to minister of women's rights and government spokeswoman. Her dual citizenship is a flower in the government's cap. She was, until December 2011, director of the equivalent of a Moroccan lobby. Justice Minister Christiane Tobira was once an activist for Guyanese independence. Cécile Duflot jumped so fast from Green Party chief to minister of territorial equality and housing that she came to the first cabinet meeting in tight plump jeans that clashed with the period furniture and gilded curlicues of the palatial Ministry. President Hollande is trying to fit a Scandinavian-style presidency into the pomp and circumstance of la République française.
The short-term fate of this government depends on the results of looming legislative elections. Twenty-six of the 34 ministers, including the PM, are standing for election. Those who lose must resign their ministerial posts. Further, if the Socialists and their allies do not win a majority in the legislature, President Hollande will be saddled with an opposition prime minister and cabinet -- known as "co-habitations" -- that will stop his program in its tracks. It's unlikely, but it could happen.
European countries are grappling with the impossibility of maintaining welfare states in an uncontrollable globalized economy while allowing mass immigration of non-qualified; non-integrated; and, to a large extent, hostile populations. François Hollande promises that justice will be done and prosperity restored now that Sarkozy has been kicked out. Interestingly enough, Hollande's (underestimated) net worth is over a million, and it's all in real estate -- no sign of investments in the free enterprise, innovation, and industrialization he is committed to promote. The rabble-rouser Mélenchon is worth two million. These humble servants of the people are in the same bracket as Nicolas Sarkozy, the "president of the rich."
The French-Arab springtime
François Hollande is welcomed by the media with a sigh of relief. The buzzword is "apaisement." He is a soothing president who will heal a populace that has been manhandled for five years by the bling-bling hyperactive divisive omni-president Nicolas Sarkozy. Hollande will restore justice and bring together a marvelously diverse population united by the values of la République. The French word "apaisement" (pacifying or soothing) is the source of the English word "appeasement." (But the appeasement we would apply to Chamberlain is "munichois.")
Apaisement is in the air. Clearly taking a swing at the outgoing Claude Guéant, incoming Interior Minister Manuel Valls declared that his ministry will not stigmatize any community. Apaisement in the banlieue. Martiniquaise George Pau-Langevin, undersecretary for educational success, will bring apaisement to the schools. We can count on Tobira for apaisement in the courts. The defense minister is going to do apaisement in Afghanistan by withdrawing French troops a year ahead of schedule. And Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius can be counted on for apaisement in the Middle East, n'est-ce pas? Turning away from Nicolas Sarkozy's tough stance on Iran, the new administration is enthusiastic about talks. Former Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard made a "private" visit to Tehran last week, purportedly without Hollande's prior consent, intention, or intervention. That visit takes place in the context of an international onslaught of op-eds arguing that Iran is a hair's breadth from agreeing to scuttle its nuclear arms program and snuggle into the arms of the international community, if only that aggressive state of Israel can be kept from spoiling it all. UNSC recognition of a Palestinian state is back on the French agenda.
The carefully dosed multicolor government is a faithful image of the population that rushed into streets and public squares all over France on the 6th of May to celebrate the ousting of Nicolas Sarkozy and the election of François Hollande. As I remarked in my blog posting that evening, two Algerian flags waving smack in the path of the camera veiled and unveiled the newly elected president as he gave his speech at the Bastille. Flags from other Muslim countries were ostentatiously displayed by youths clustered around the base of the Place de la Bastille monument. Dozens of foreign flags were waved that night by uninhibited patriots. What did it have to do with the election of a French president?
Some of those foreign flags were edited out when videos of the festive scenes were broadcast the next day. Media commentary was unanimously indulgent. The flags weren't foreign; they were hyphenated, a harmless reminder of the multiple nationalities that compose modern France in all its diversity. While mainstream journalists remained up in the air, Khoutzpa TV touched ground and made contact with a Palestinian-flagged contingent. Their message is rough, brutal, and supremely arrogant. Israel has no right to exist, the Jews stole the country from the Palestinians, they play on European guilt to hide their sins. You can't have a country for just one religion. We saw what they do, it's on Daily Motion, Palestinian kids are going to school or to the mosque and the Jews throw stones at them, shoot them. A young man says, "We're going to go over there and kick ass. And if that doesn't work, we'll go with guns." Asked to give his name, he replies "Mohamed Merah." And he looks the part -- the same punk strut, the same cold-blooded ignorance.
Disappointed conservatives dismiss Sarkozy as a phony: he didn't stop legal or illegal immigration; mosque construction flourished; he didn't bring law and order to cities and villages; he didn't free enterprise, reform structures, increase productivity. They say he just talked and rushed around the world looking busy. Betrayed Zionists don't forgive him for the vote to admit Palestine to UNESCO, for badmouthing Bibi, singing the song about a Palestinian state being the sine qua non of Israel's security. Almost everyone faults him for inviting Gaddafi to spread his tents in Paris in 2007 and hosting Bashar al Assad for the 14 Juillet celebration in 2011. Some of those voters went over to the Front National on the first round, and only 51% came back to Sarkozy on the second. He needed a 75% crossover to be re-elected.
Many of these alienated voters are counting on an implosion of the UMP that will leave the field wide open for the ex nihilo creation of a genuine political right. It is more likely that the ousted majority will reshape without losing its grip. Those who remain loyal to Marine Le Pen think she will pick up the pieces and replace the devastated UMP. I think she has reached the peak of her potential and will start the downturn.
Tucked into a match between two fallible human beings with contrasting principles and styles stands a referendum on two propositions. 1. The economic crisis was caused by greedy speculators and will be reversed by stimulus spending and the restoration of social and economic justice. 2. Islam is not a problem; speaking ill of Islam is the problem. If we agree that Islam is a positive ingredient of our national composition, harmony will be restored.
It would all be so lovely if only we weren't at war. A wartime statesman asks for blood, sweat, and tears. Not "apaisement." But this war remains invisible to the majority of citizens. They want change. That was Hollande's campaign slogan. They want hope. That's what he offered them. They want the rich to pay for the food and drinks so the party will never end. They want evil to be a harmless word you can erase from the script. And anyone who says there is a war and it has something to do with Islam is labeled far-right and pushed right off the table. Men and women get voted in and out of office, but the ideas by which we survive or perish are not dismissed. The issues that tugged like a strong undercurrent in the depths of this election will re-emerge and demand further thought and better propositions.
Update: Seen from here, the Hollande-Obama meeting in the Oval Office was frank, cordial, and productive. The two presidents see eye-to-eye on growth. They share hopes that Iran will be firmly negotiated into abandoning its nuclear ambitions. They agree that the situation in Syria is unacceptable. They hope Greece will stay in the Eurozone. They are mutually concerned about al-Qaeda in the Sahel. And François Hollande expressed the fervent hope that he and Obama will pursue this fruitful collaboration for many years to come.