Hollande also benefits from a well established precedent of French Socialists who end up being mugged by pragmatism. Some are named to serve in center-right governments and become politically indistinguishable from their colleagues. Current French Industry Minister Eric Besson, a Socialist who has also served as Sarkozy's hard-line immigration minister, comes to mind.
Similarly, Socialist French President Francois Mitterrand's election at the height of the Cold War caused U.S. President Ronald Reagan to freak out, thinking Mitterrand's government would become a Communist nest. Instead, shortly after his election, Mitterrand, like some kind of bird dog, dropped at Reagan's feet the identities of several Communist spies in what became known as the "Farewell Affair" -- resulting in America's rounding up of important technological KGB spies.
A self-described conservative in his youth, Mitterrand named a conservative, Edouard Balladur, as prime minister. After paying lip service to his party for two years, Mitterrand made a hard-right turn in his economic policies, ushering in a period of austerity and spending cuts. In his book "Conservative Socialism," Roger Kaplan explains: "(Mitterrand) could attack 'imperialism' and speak of 'breaking with capitalism' in the knowledge that he did not know, or did not really care, what he was talking about, except in its effect on the immediate political context of France, which was to rally the left, not against America or capitalism but the French right."
In other words, Mitterrand would be whatever you'd like him to be, as long as it would make you vote for him. Can't say that it didn't work -- Mitterrand served 14 years as president.
Personally, much like I prefer not to play coy little games with men, I also prefer the kind of politician who can dig in his heels and lead from the front, educating voters as he goes along, and pointing to the success of his policies as proof of their effectiveness. It's much tougher to claim victory when it sneaks in through the window at 3 a.m. and no one's really sure how it got there.
But, as with Santa Claus, sometimes people feel that in politics, it doesn't matter how the gifts got beneath the tree, just as long as they're there. Will this strategy become more appealing as the world's problems become more complex? It's entirely possible.
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