Recalibration

Arthur Goldhammer
17 October 2018

France finally has its remaniement. Tonight President Macron came not to explain what he had done but to insist that it was meaningless and of no importance: the direction had not changed, and his will to reform had if anything only gained in intensity.

It was a peculiar performance. He seemed unable to decide whether to read from the teleprompter or glance at the notes placed on the desk in front of him, with corrections to the text in plain view. At times he made awkward hand gestures, at other times he sat grim and immobile. The speech was punctuated by odd pauses and hiatuses that bore no relation to the meaning of the words.It was impossible to decide if he hadn’t rehearsed or had rehearsed badly, hesitating between different line readings. This was the worst speech I have seen him give.

In substance, apart from “stay the course,” he admitted to having ruffled feathers by speaking too bluntly and appeared eager to chasten his normal exuberance, self-confidence, and arrogance. He summarized the long litany of reforms already accomplished and urged the French to overcome their impatience. Il faut donner du temps au temps, etc. But there was no inventory of results that may have disappointed the great reformer himself. Things do take time, but he might have won more sympathy by explaining what the thought would have happened by now that didn’t and what he expected might still happen and when.

Instead of candor there was a semblance of contrition so remote from his usual public persona that one could only wonder what he hoped to accomplish by it. If this was the opening shot of the European election campaign, it missed its target by gesturing toward a recovery of sovereignty of several kinds, including “digital sovereignty,” whatever that might be, without a hint of what policies might follow. In short, it was the worst speech I have seen Macron give and one of the worst in fifty years of following French politics. Not a good omen or an auspicious beginning for the new government, which is all but identical to the old but for the absence of two well-known personalities and the substitution of several unknowns for several other unknowns. Tomorrow, business as usual resumes, and patience is once again the order of the day.

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1 Comment

  • Ron Tiersky says:

    This was exactly my reaction: a speech full of lack of self-confidence and tone-deaf tics (“Mes chers compatriots..”). He didn’t have to give such a solemn speech, to make such a big deal of a few changes in personnel. Better would have been a modest interview with some complacent journalist,. A Putin-style performance?

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