By Robert Albertson
PARIS—The last couple of weeks have been French President François Hollande’s variation on former President Jacques Chirac’s crack that problems fly in squads:
- Ecology Queen and sacked housing minister Cecile Duflot’s book (De L’Interieur, Voyage au Pays de la Désillusion or “From the Interior, Voyage to the Country of Disillusion”) with among other gems: by wanting to be the president of everyone, Hollande’s ended up the president of no-one.
- Then Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg’s annual jamboree and speech, which led to the forced resignation of the entire government and dismissal of three ministers. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira barely survived, per reliable political reports.
- Add the most recent polls where Hollande’s confidence rating has fallen to 13 percent, the lowest ever registered under the Fifth Republic. And, he’s dragging down his Prime Minister Manuel Valls who only got a 30 percent confidence rating in same poll.
- Stir in La Trierweiler’s book [Merci Pour Ce Moment or “Thanks for This Moment”] and its tasteless revelations. Mind you, such a book is in incredibly bad taste but is of a piece with the entire François-Valerie [Trierweiler] affair: she muscled out former lover and Hollande’s Socialist political rival, Segolène Royal, then further screwed Segolène by openly supporting Ms Royal’s successful rival for a National Assembly seat, only to find herself discarded as bachelor Hollande’s mistress and de facto first lady for another woman, actress Julie Gayet—tossed out via an 18-word communiqué phoned to AFP. Something about the elegance of the gesture comes to mind. Ah, the revenge of an abandoned woman. In addition, Trierweiler was deemed “difficult” by many in Hollande’s entourage. The French public/electorate did not like her either (though rocketing her book to #1 best seller even before its formal issuance, in part on the strength of excerpts in Paris Match, where the author long worked as a journo, and with the most lurid revelations in turn splattered all over the French media). Still, when Hollande was working a line of spectators at a public event not long ago, one elderly woman admonished him loud enough to be picked up and broadcast by TV cameras, “Get rid of Valerie.” Hollande managed a forced smile.
- What particularly damaged Hollande was two words in Trierweiler’s memoir describing how in private moments, the Socialist president who publicly expresses how much he “hates the rich,” in private referred to the poor as les sans dents [“people without teeth”], a contemptuous reminder that good dental care in France is too often reserved for the wealthy.
- Finally, there’s now been the forced dismissal of the Foreign Trade junior minister, Thomas Thévenoud. A politico who was vice-chair of the special commission which investigated disgraced Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac’s lies about his Swiss bank account and vice-chair of a standing parliamentary committee on tax fraud. Thévenoud never bothered to file tax returns or pay taxes for “years. Each question this particular affair raises is worse than the preceding one: was the man utterly cynical; what planet does he live on; some mix of the two? And most damning of all for Hollande & Company : don’t the President and Prime Minister have aides who are supposed to vet ministerial candidates—to avoid screw-ups of the Thevenaud sort?
Thursday’s evening French national newscasts had video from the NATO Summit at Newport, Wales. All Summit participants were standing and chatting in groups—except Hollande, who was seated at the conference table all alone staring in space. Finally Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius came up and sat down next to him. Pathetic.
Hollande may be a political magician, but he’s going to have to do some fancy tap-dancing to complete his term in something resembling respectable form. And, yes, the political rumor mill is working overtime on the theme: at 13 percent popularity can he actually finish the term? While Fifth Republic state institutions are strong, Hollande appears more and more like a very serious casting error.
Robert Albertson served for nearly 40 years as a producer at CBS News in Paris, and continues to be an astute observer of French politics and society.
[Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia]