Form vs. Function
For the second time in three days, President Macron, le pourfendeur de la présidence bavarde of his predecessor, sat down for a lengthy interview. Regarding the content of his discussion with journalists Jean-Jacques Bourdin and Edwy Plenel, I can repeat what I said in the previous post: Macron is brilliant at articulating his own point of view, which he defends by saying nothing about the strongest arguments that can be raised against him. Once again his defense of the wealth tax cut provides a glaring example: he claims that it will boost investment in France while ignoring the fact that it equally favors capital flows out of France and into other countries. Despite their (shall we say) pugnacity of the two interviewers, they were as ineffective as the hapless Jean-Pierre Pernaut in exposing the weaknesses in the president’s arguments.
Which brings us to the question of the form vs. the function of events like this. In form last night’s event was certainly an innovation. The president–I assume it was the president or his press flacks–couldn’t have chosen a more … virile mise en scène, what with Macron backed by the magnificent phallic symbol of the Eiffel Tower, punctuated by twinkling lights of the sort that used to symbolize orgasmic moments in film before one could show les feux de joie directly. The view through the window of the Palais de Chaillot couldn’t have been more spectacular.
Across the pentagonal table sat the two journalists, Edwy Plenel for la gauche militante, Jean-Jacques Bourdin for la droite beauf. Neither wore a tie, whether by their choice or the president’s was not stated. Given the kerfuffle over Mélenchon’s tieless appearances at the Assemblée Nationale, the choice could only be read as an effort to faire peuple, an effort reinforced by the decision to address Monsieur le Président, as he was called in the introduction only, as “Emmanuel Macron.” One was immediately reminded of Jacques Chirac’s effort to enforce equality between himself and the incumbent Mitterrand during the 1988 presidential debate: “Oui, Monsieur le Premier Ministre,” Monsieur le Président affably agreed. But, as Macron reminded his interlocutors at one point, “je suis le président, vous êtes des intervieweurs.” Moi, je décide, vous griffonnez.
Sarkozy used to complain that his interviewers lacked du répondant, which threw him off his counterpuncher’s game. Macron could lodge no such complaint against the pair he confronted. At moments Bourdin seemed ready to leap from his chair and attack the president physically. In his daily routine he likes to sit directly across from his interviewee, nose to nose as it were, so that he can hurl questions in his or her face. The pentagonal setup for the TV cameras left him defanged. He tried to overcome the distance by looking fierce. Plenel tried to do the same by looking ironic and wry, forcing his patented ironic twinkle to compensate for lack of depth. Both men presented themselves as tribuns du peuple rather than connoisseurs of any particular issue area, which allowed Macron to toy with them in a sort of rope-a-dope performance, confronting only those arguments he chose to.
But the gloves are off now. Future interviewers will feel emboldened to go after the president as never before. Macron seems to enjoy the exercise, but who knows? Even Muhammad Ali slowed with age. In the meantime, the spectacle diverts from the substance. Form triumphs over function. And Macron buys time, which is what every president needs. Il faut donner du temps au temps, as Mitterrand famously said. Last night, Macron bought himself some time.