The Blog

What a Hollande Presidency Would Mean for the West

12:00 AM, Apr 22, 2012 • By ANNE-ELISABETH MOUTET
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Paris
He was never supposed to be president. For years, rather charmingly, François Hollande didn’t even seem to care, unlike, say, the single-minded Nicolas Sarkozy, who had thought of little else since his early 20s. As spokesman, then leader of the French Socialist party (a job which doesn’t automatically entail heading the government in case of electoral victory), Hollande looked blessedly free of the pompousness that afflicts so many French politicians. He was capable of humor, even—much rarer in Paris—of self-deprecation. His rivals among the notoriously faction-riven Socialists despised him for it.

François Hollande

François Hollande

Far beyond Socialist party confines, the general view on Hollande was, to say the least, ungenerous. “Second-tier politico” was one of the kindest tags. “He’s a provincial mayor who’s never held a cabinet job,” people told you. “He was the most disorganized party leader in memory.”

When she succeeded Hollande’s ten-year tenure as Socialist chief, the former Mitterrand employment minister Martine Aubry—now widely tipped to become Hollande’s prime minister—famously said that Hollande had left the party in such a mess that she even had to unblock the headquarters toilets herself. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, before his career’s disastrous implosion, quipped that Hollande has absolutely zero intellectual curiosity. Ségolène Royal, Hollande’s former partner of 23 years and the mother of his four children, who beat him to the Socialist nomination in the previous presidential race, said that he was “incapable of action” and had “achieved nothing in 30 years of public life.” And these are just his political friends.

But as the French vote today in the first round of the presidential election, a kind of inevitability has seized the nation’s mood. Even though the final result will only be known in the runoff two weeks from now, overwhelming expectations are that for failing to engage his compatriots’ affection and respect, Sarkozy is truly getting the boot this time. Too brash, too bling, too eager, too tin-eared to the needs of the French to be cosseted, even lied to. The un-glitzy, uncharismatic Hollande will in all likelihood become the Fifth Republic’s seventh president since Charles de Gaulle, no doubt prompting from the newly “cultured” Sarkozy (Carla has been overseeing his reading list) an updating of Winston Churchill’s famous quote on Clement Attlee: On May 7, an empty taxi will stop in front of the Élysée palace and M. Hollande will step out of it.

So what can America expect of France’s swing to the left under a president who speaks even less English (or any other language) than Sarko, and has zero experience of foreign affairs?

If one thing emerged clearly from this lackluster presidential campaign, it’s an overall sock-the-rich theme, the violence of which even Goldman Sachs’s CEO hasn’t experienced. Everyone from Marine Le Pen to Hollande’s own militant dissident, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the “ultra-left candidate” who may yet come in third tonight, and including the Centrists, the Greens, and Sarkozy himself, has been at it. The candidates have all demanded more regulation of financial markets, denounced the shelter our tax exiles find in England, Belgium, and Switzerland; and claimed that the New York Stock Exchange and the City of London are wantonly speculating against the euro, aided and abetted by the ratings agencies, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

Hollande himself is a technocrat, a civil servant: he graduated from the elite ENA school, the incestuous breeding ground for most French politicians, top bosses, and mandarins. He has little or no ideology, but he has also no experience at all of private enterprise: He’s been on a government payroll of some sort since his student days. This means he has no qualms about paying lip service to the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the campaign.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 15 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers