by Ramin Mazaheri
The world can say “So long Francois Hollande – we hardly knew ya”.
Hollande, after all, was a purely national-level politician when he won office. His big gig had been heading the Socialist party for 11 years, until his ex-partner Segolene Royal lost to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.
Hollande’s similarities with former US First Lady Hillary Clinton run even deeper than partnering with a president, (almost, in Royal’s case). Both Hollande and Clinton were creations of “the Party”, as Hillary was the Party’s choice 4 years earlier, in 2008, but she lost to an all-talk, newbie senator from the Midwest.
But you can at least say that the world had seen Hillary in action – Hollande had never held a major cabinet post or any international job. Besides heading the Socialist Party, he was mainly known for being the mayor of Tulle, population 15,396.
But in 2012 Hollande was the Party’s choice, ultimately, to go down in history as a patsy.
Nationally, he’s been sacrificed on the altar of the mainstream party. That certainly didn’t start with his recent abdication, but has been going on since he accepted austerity.
Internationally, Hollande was a patsy for three groups: the “can’t be rich enough” 1%, the centripetal force centered in Brussels, and the European Troika. These interconnected powers controlled Hollande as effectively as any puppet, even though the French president is granted more executive power than any other Western leader.
He’s the most unpopular president ever, and he has admitted defeat before even running for re-election – he never coulda even been a contender. That’s truly a rare feat in Western democracies – at least the unelected Gerald Ford can say that he tried to win in 1976, but lost.
Hollande should have seen this would be the price…if his master plan true was to immediately turn 180 degrees and install austerity until his bitter end.
It didn’t have to be that way: after a couple years of austerity, when France’s borrowing rates hit historical lows, he could have said that the ‘confidence fairy’ of high finance had been appeased. The gods of high finance have been lending to France at under 1% since 2012 (they currently loan at a benchmark interest rate of 0.75%).
But Hollande used Brussel’s arbitrary rule of refusing budgetary deficits of over 3% to pass an austerity budget every year, on top of Sarkozy’s final annual budget. Hollande only turned down Brussels at the very end end, citing the need for greater security (military) spending in the wake of terrorism hysteria.
Did it work? Well it did for the rich: stock dividends hit a quarterly European record in the second quarter of 2014. But that wasn’t enough for them to ease off the failure of austerity.
Did it work for everyone else? Of course not – that’s what neoliberalism is, after all. Unemployment kept climbing to record levels (over 10%), inequality soared, poverty reached new highs, economic growth stayed at recession levels, and the list goes on. Neoliberalism, as anyone paying attention knows, doesn’t rely on facts nor results to further the fervor of its adherents.
And the people despised Hollande. An approval rating of just 4% is practically unparalleled by someone who hasn’t been forced out of office or deposed in a coup.
But Hollande did it anyway, and now he’s slinking away into infamy. Unless he has a really big family in Tulle, he probably can’t even get re-elected there.
By quitting he’s not going to pull any of the levers available to an executive as powerful as the French president, and not even one who has flagrantly abused his executive authority. He didn’t even try to sidestep the upcoming Socialist democratic primary and run separately, despite ruling undemocratically, due to the state of emergency, which is now in its (lucky) 13th month. The emergency will last until after the May election, and it appears to be up to the new president to decide to continue what is accurately termed a “police state dictatorship”.
So besides being a “Mainstream Man” of the Party, who was Francois Hollande?
Back during the 2012 election campaign Sarkozy derided him as an insignificant “Mr. Little Jokes”, because of Hollande’s purported wit and sarcastic humor. His sarcasm ran very deep, apparently, as his ex-mistress caused a storm in 2014 when she revealed that he referred to the homeless as “the people without teeth”.
Sarkozy, just ousted in the first major blow to France’s mainstream establishment, was apparently right on with his assessment: “Flanby” Hollande’s resistance against austerity was a joke, but hardly a small one for France, and hardly a small one for all of Europe as well.
But the mood in May 2012 actually couldn’t have been more different: Sarkozy – with his right-wing economics and boorish personality – that was France’s only real problem, and now he was gone.
The main campaign issue was ending austerity, and Hollande declared that high finance “was his enemy”. He ran on a populist measure – restoring economic sovereignty to the average citizen – and he won. His “little jokes” showed vast intelligence, said the hopeful; why not give a first chance to a famously formerly-fat guy from the countryside nicknamed “Mr. Normal” instead of slick Sarko?
Yes, back in 2012 France was going to lead the resistance against the Germans, again, who were growing fat off of imperialism against their small Eurozone “partners” (also again). Of course France was getting fat too, but if Hollande could drop a ton of weight prior to the campaign then French banks could just as easily be restrained from swallowing Greece in portions nearly as big as Germany’s.
Mr. Normal may be unfairly vilified in a post-Brexit and post-Trump world, but maybe France was ahead of their time with Hollande in 2012? If so, they have truly learned that Mr. (and Ms.) Normal can be very easily manipulated – no Castro, he (nor she).
And yet, obviously, the mood couldn’t be more different today: now it’s “far-right or bust” across France, Europe and already in the United States. France will probably also turn to nationalist fascism via the far-right’s Marine Le Pen in May, but that’s not as dire as in the United States.
That’s not giving France’s credit, although Le Pen is at least economically leftist in many ways (for now): so deep are France’s cultural woes that every party – except those half-dozen terribly disunited far left parties that can’t even work together to push their most popular candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon – now shares Le Pen’s xenophobic and Islamophobic outlook.
Hollande will also be remembered as presiding over this mainstreaming of xenophobia by persecuting the Roma worse than Sarkozy and ignoring the refugee crisis he was a major factor in perpetuating. Two terror attacks, and one psychotic attack in Nice, gave Hollande the chance to end France’s Islamophobia but he used it to get what he wanted instead. Again, no racially-unifying Castro, he.
And what Hollande really, truly, madly, deeply wanted was to ram through, undemocratically, a right-wing roll back to France’s labor code, and he finally got that last spring after months of anti-government protests. France’s labor code was, after all, a semi-pro-worker labor code that since World War II has been an anomaly and a major capitalist propaganda embarrassment to the US and the United Kingdom. Of course, France’s poverty rates are far lower than in the US and the UK, and even their adored continental cousin Germany.
It took 2,000 plus arrests, a few lost eyes and untold amounts of police brutality (virtually ignored by Western media in a major double-standard), but Hollande got that done. (I’m not including the house arrests of environmentalists and Muslims, or the war hysteria prison sentences, here.)
And after all his tireless work, Hollande is now taking the fall for the Socialist Party.
By falling on the sword he hopes to salvage the Socialists’ image and chance of winning in May. He really shouldn’t have: the party is so tainted, so pro-establishment and so obviously lacking in any left-wing integrity that they have nobody and nothing to move forward with. Whose logic could be so easily manipulated as to give France’s Socialists another 5 years after such a hated betrayal?
Prime Minister Manual Valls, one of the last die-hard “Third Way” politicians in the West, seems tipped to represent the Socialists, but he has no chance to win. Valls is a “Socialist” like Hillary was a “Democrat” but he may not be dumb enough to sacrifice for the Party as his boss has just done.
And yet despite all the anti-Hollande vitriol, ultra-austerity conservative party candidate Francois Fillon is polling to win at 66% despite an ultra-austerity platform. It’ll keep getting said, but that’s more proof that France’s electorate aren’t any more sophisticated, modern or politically-intelligent than anywhere else.
“One day they will look back and thank me” – surely that’s what Hollande is thinking. Gorbachev is probably thinking the same thing, too. Both of them are totally wrong, both are out of power and both are almost universally despised today.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.