Thursday, May 03, 2012

Pinning Down the Master of Evasion, French Socialist François Hollande

…if Hollande wins, the French will have chosen a man at ease with generalities who aspires to be “willful” and “dignified,” a symbol of “brotherhood” and “bringing people together”
writes John Vinocur in his International Herald Tribune column, which opens with
one of those rare political moments when the campaign-screech and repetitive mumbling stopped.

Last week, a French television interviewer asked François Hollande, the favorite to win France’s presidential election on Sunday, if he thought there were too many foreigners in France. Simple question, and one central to a campaign where extremists of the right and left won 30 percent of the votes in a first-round ballot.

Yet Hollande would not answer yes or no. He reached for legalisms instead.

The journalist poked again: “Why this tendency to evade things? What’s your profound conviction? You aren’t telling us.” More references followed from Hollande involving the status of legal foreign residents and the possible expulsion of illegals.

The interviewer insisted: “Deep inside, what’s your conviction?”

“I’m not a commentator on public life,” Hollande replied. “I am the next president of France.”

… As standard-bearer of a program of “change” — his own watchword Hollande doesn’t offer explicit and decisive plans for reforms in French economic and civic life, remains silent about the pain and disruption that would come with any serious structural changes, and relies on the lingering unpopularity of President Nicolas Sarkozy to put the Socialists in office.

Evasive? Think of this: Here is a self-described Man of the Left who, with a pol’s calculation, refuses to say on national television that no, France doesn’t have too many foreigners. Sarkozy, at least, has risked claiming the opposite.

Instead, to deal with the rubbed-raw issues of Muslim immigration and integration, Hollande flees anything that sounds like a call for an affirmative action program.

His friends say charm and amiability are at the center of Hollande’s character. His political enemies argue he is an eternal maneuverer, more calculating than courageous. And, indeed, the Socialist candidate stepped around any word of criticism for the left-wing extremist Jean-Luc Mélenchon when he compared Sarkozy to Vichy’s pro-Nazi collaborators.

Even Hollande’s eldest son Thomas, a lawyer, has described his father’s personality as “elusive.”