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President Normal the 1st of France

Sometimes I feel a little sorry for people in high public office. First they are photographed everywhere they go, then the picture editors choose the photos that show them at their worst. Mrs Clinton, for example, is always shown is if she were playing Lady Macbeth. Of course, there is an explanation for this other than the malice of picture editors, but being charitable I prefer not to think it.

In France, President Hollande is always photographed looking bemused, not very intelligent and completely out of his depth. He has the air of a man who has wandered from his natural environment, say a provincial branch of a bank he is deputy manager, into the midst of a world war raging all about him. He not only lacks charisma (which is not necessarily a bad thing when one considers the damage sometimes wrought by charismatic persons), but has a kind of negative charisma. When one looks into his face, one wants to go to sleep. He manages to be both boring and wrong-headed at the same time; obstinacy is his substitute for strength.

Poor man! Everything is going wrong for him. He is the object of universal ridicule and contempt. He is booed and hissed in public, he has the lowest rate of approval of any French president of the Fifth Republic (even his supporters think nothing of him), the economic situation in France is deteriorating, he made a complete fool of himself over Syria, and so it goes on. In his election campaign he made much of his desire to be ‘a normal president’ by contrast with his opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose main ambition in life seemed to be to appear in as many newspapers, magazines and TV programmes as possible. Recently an article in the Journal du dimanche called him Normal the First.

It goes without saying that ‘normal’ men do not become President of the French Republic. It is true that Mr Hollande reached the Elysée only by accident, thanks to the public exposure of Mr Strauss-Kahn’s goatish disposition; but normal men do not devote their entire lives to politicking, as he had done. Unfortunately, his abnormality lay not in the sphere of ability, but in that of ambition: he is the most characteristic of modern types, the ambitious mediocrity.

There is nothing wrong with being mediocre. Most of us are mediocre in most things. Allied with ambition and ruthlessness, however, it becomes a curse. You have only to look at the British political class to understand that.

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