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The Unbearable Lightness Of Francois Hollande

How could he think he'd be able to hide a love affair behind a scooter helmet? The French President has lost control amidst the celebrity-charged politics that he helped create.

President François Hollande all smiles last May
President François Hollande all smiles last May
Françoise Fressoz

PARIS — Done, it’s over! There are no longer any barriers between private and public life. We can find it regrettable and fool ourselves into thinking that the old impermeability still exists, as top French politicians are claiming.

But those days are gone — it’s a fact. All the cards are on the table and everything is mixed up, starting with President François Hollande's so-called change of politics and his so-called change of partner.

As a result, there is a growing unease for journalists covering Hollande’s third major press conference. Should we talk about it or not? Three sides are already forming: The “serious” press will ask the president serious questions, about his recent "responsibility pact" with the French business sector and his so-called free-market turn.

The “less serious” press will pressure him to clarify his personal situation, and the First Lady’s.

The foreign press will do both, as it is used to doing in the name of transparency.

Power couples

In reality, the entire press will be united in the same voyeurism — because this voyeurism is shared by society at large. We want to know everything about Hollande, both as a politician and a celebrity: his thoughts, his acts, his bedroom secrets.

We want to be able to laugh, cry, make fun of everything, without realizing how extraordinarily cruel it is to expose these strictly private feelings.

Then comes a more political question: How could François Hollande, in the era of smartphones, Internet and social networks, think that simply hiding his head under a scooter helmet would allow him to have a secret life, as former President François Mitterrand used to be able to enjoy?

Is it naiveté? This is hard to believe. Since the mid-2000s, when he was the leader of the Socialist Party and representative of the French department of Corrèze, he was unintentionally — as were many others — responsible for political life slipping into celebrity culture. His personal life was thrown to the mercy of the public because it was, in reality, closely tied to his political life. He formed the ultimate political couple with Ségolène Royal (former Socialist party nominee for president), before later separating.

If he never became an active accomplice of this celebrity brand of politics, François Hollande actually never really suffered from it. It helped humanize him, splash a bit of romance on a life that seemed a bit too plain.

At the Elysée presidential palace, too, romance is an asset. But to prosper, it requires a minimum of mystery and control — and the president just lost control of everything, overwhelmed by a scenario he never really contained.

This légèreté (lightness) is what might make forgiveness hard for Hollande to obtain, in a context of distrust that makes the presidential function such a fragile undertaking.

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