Yesterday, President Hollande participated, probably against his better judgment but on the advice of his image handlers (and one has to pity them!), in an exercise that few presidents have managed well, even when not in a hole as deep as that in which Hollande finds himself. He submitted himself to the questions of four "ordinary Frenchmen" (actually 1 man and 3 women) carefully chosen by the management of TF1 to "represent" key issues (there was a small businesswoman, for example, and a representative of the "visible minorities," etc.). It was an exercise in futility.
Pierre Rosanvallon has written about the need for "proximity" in modern democracies. The media, especially the televisual media, create a false sense of intimacy between governors and governed, and people want to feel "accompanied" in their daily plight by those who are supposed to be solving their problems. Or so goes the theory. In seeming corroboration, the "representative" of the unemployed in yesterday's panel told the president she felt "abandoned," and of course he dutifully replied that she was not alone. Indeed, there she was, "accompanied" by the president himself under the klieg lights. It was really a rather surreal moment, though of course no less surreal than when the president defended himself against his ex-mistress's charge that he prefers "great restaurants" to greasy spoons. "No," M. Hollande protested to his questioner, "have you ever seen me in a great restaurant?" Probably not, since the questioner was the "representative" of the unemployed. In any case, Hollande went on to say, having represented the Corrèze for many years, he had visited all the bistros in Tulle many times to meet with voters. As if he spent all of the past 30 years in Tulle meeting with voters. The absurdity of the response was distressing, and if I were a bistro owner in Tulle I would feel rather insulted, since the president, even if he didn't call their establishments "greasy spoons," was clearly commending them as places good only for meeting with voters and not for flattering one's palate.
But enough. It's all too easy to mock the foolishness of the "grands de ce monde face au petit peuple" genre. What was even more distressing was the evident absence of consciousness on the president's part of why he is in this mess. He felt it necessary, apparently, to affirm his continued existence vis-à-vis Manuel Valls by announcing that Valls was merely carrying out policies conceived and desired by the president. It wasn't quite as peremptory as Chirac's "je décide, il exécute" dismissal of Sarkozy, but it was close, as commentators did not fail to note. In any case, Hollande had already made that point in a marathon press conference only a month ago, and he had nothing new to add. Rather than avail himself of an opportunity to explain the logic behind the direction he has chosen (we can take him at his word that it was his choice), which is not the direction he had promised to go during his campaign, he continued with his baffling predilection for announcing petty measures as if they were grand designs ("A tablet for every junior high student in France!" will probably not go down in history alongside Henri IV's "chicken in every pot", and in any case the tablets had already been promised by Benoît Hamon, whom Hollande recently fired from his job as education minister).
It was a performance that could only leave one still hoping for a resuscitation of French social democracy perplexed and sad. And what is one to say of a democracy in which the "representatives of the people" are chosen by TV news executives without the slightest justification of their "representativity?"