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François Hollande – no more 'Mr. Pudding'?

Style – more than policy differences on austerity – separated Socialist winner François Hollande from Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential elections. France may have simply preferred Hollande, dubbed 'Mr. Pudding,' over bombastic Sarkozy. But Hollande may not be so soft.

By Charles Cogan / May 7, 2012

President-elect François Hollande waves from the balcony of the Socialist Party headquarters in Paris May 7. Op-ed contributor Charles Cogan writes: 'Hollande’s immediate problem will not be with the US but with Germany – his first foreign destination as president. He has promised to renegotiate a European Union treaty mandating deficit and debt limits.'

Michel Spingler/AP


Cambridge, Mass.

The French presidential election, which ended in a rather close victory for Socialist François Hollande over Nicolas Sarkozy, was fought largely on personal terms. Despite rhetorical flourishes during the campaign and what may appear to have been a sharp divergence over Europe’s austerity path, the ideological differences between these two center-leaning candidates amount to only a few degrees.

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Perhaps a general desire for change is one key to understanding what happened: The only way to effect regime change in France in modern times is at the very top, through the presidential election. Perhaps it was time for alternance: the Socialists hadn’t been in power since 1995.

It has been difficult for Americans to understand the extreme désamour that developed between the French public and Mr. Sarkozy almost from day one of his presidency. The late Raymond Aron, the leading French strategic thinker of the post-war period, once described France as “a conservative country that dreams of revolution.”

That Sarkozy celebrated the night of his victory in 2007 at a posh Paris restaurant full of his rich friends and then sojourned on a yacht owned by a French millionaire, left an everlasting bad taste with the French people. (Here was the revolutionary side of the French psyche kicking in.)

The conservative side of the French psyche is aptly captured by the contemporary French historian Jacques Revel:

“The court has founded a lasting memory in the history of France…[There is] a renaissance of this curial phenomenon even in the midst of our democratic society,” he writes. This residue of “monarchical coloration,” he explains, is largely owed to the larger-than-life founder of “la Grande Nation” that is modern France, Charles de Gaulle.

When Sarkozy, early in his term, cursed out a spectator at an agricultural fair for refusing to shake hands with him, he was breaking the code of the dignity of the French “republican monarchy.” That and his constantly agitational, hand-waving style and habit of chewing out even his closest collaborators, made him come off as not up to the image of the French presidential office.

Along came François Hollande, looking as bland as a provincial bank manager and bearing the nickname of “Monsieur Flanby” (Mr. Pudding)  for his softness of manner and his alleged “indecision,” so described by his former companion, Ségolène Royal, who is the mother of their four children.


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