How the French President Got Firm

The French president, François Hollande, endorses multi-tasking.

The French president, François Hollande, endorses multi-tasking. On his left, Julie Gayet, his lover; on his right, Valerie Trierweiler, his long-term girlfriend and the First Lady.

Who knew that François Hollande was so hard. Such a dog. Such a Don Juan. Such a baller. Forgive the porno-speak, but those are just a few examples of the kind of language that’s been recurring in the endless commentaries of the Hollande affair in recent days. Even if no one in France is really surprised that the president is having an affair, they actually do seem surprised about—and impressed by—just what this President has got up to.

He’s “a magnificent baller!” declared Frédéric Mitterand, the former Culture Minister under Sarkozy (and the nephew of former president François Mitterand), literally cackling with tawdry glee on Belgian television in a clip that was leaked today.

Mitterand (who’s got his own sexual affairs baggage about which he’s been quite explicit and who’s been known to sometimes go overboard in his public comments) explains exactly why he is so surprised that the President pulled off such an exploit: “He doesn’t really have the looks for this kind of affair…if you were looking for someone to play the role of the total seducer, you wouldn’t pick a guy who looks like François Hollande!”

Frédéric Mitterand, former Culture Minister, says Hollande is a "magnificent baller!"

Frédéric Mitterand, former Culture Minister, says Hollande is a “magnificent baller!”

Mitterand, in his own bawdy terms, has said out loud what everyone has been thinking silently to themselves (and a little less silently: the very well-known political journalist, Michèle Cotta, was caught on microphone calling the President “ugly and pathetic”). Quite simply, Hollande didn’t look or act the part. There seems to be a general sense of genuine surprise that Hollande really could be such a seducer—this kind of seducer in the most traditional and literal sense of the term, with all its masculine and caddish connotations. The kind of guy who would have been involved with a beautiful and much younger actress for, reports are saying today, what may have been nearly two years, while still involved with a First Lady, also younger and attractive, for whom he’d left his previous partner of over 20 years.

No one was surprised that men like Strauss-Kahn, or Chirac or Mitterand, would have had affairs. Those men had an aura, they looked, respectively, charismatic, charming, and regal. But Hollande just didn’t look like a man who would—or could—engage in the kind of behavior that, from the outside, plays perfectly into the cliché of the 19th century gallant or the contemporary bad-boy.

That wasn’t Hollande. Hollande was the man without definition, literally and figuratively, the overweight insipid-looking guy nicknamed Flamby—after a shapeless dessert pudding—who went from a strong dominant mother to his strong dominant partner, Ségolène Royal, and then a strong dominant girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiler. Trierweiler’s unflattering and sexist nickname is Rottweiler, because of her reputation for being overbearing. (On the evening of Hollande’s victory, cameras captured her ordering him to kiss her—“on the lips!”—in front of the crowds.)

Capture d’écran 2014-01-17 à 20.54.06

Flamby is a jiggly caramel pudding dessert. It was also Hollande’s nickname.

Hollande was the man whose apparent inability to effectively deal with France’s economic problems, to rally political will to make tough changes—whose perceived impotence had translated into the lowest presidential ratings on record in modern France.

But suddenly the President’s edges have hardened. If there’s one thing he’s not, it’s impotent. He’s now the man with the desire and the drive to pursue a reckless love affair. To follow his wants. To take what he needs. Despite his circumstances or the risks. (Or, arguably, decency, when it comes to Valerie Trierweiler, who evidently discovered her relationship with the President was over when he told her, the night before, about the imminent tabloid magazine cover on his affair with another woman).

Everybody is terribly impressed that that guy not only got the girl—but went to get the newer younger sexy girl, while holding onto the previous girl. “A lady-killer!” say innumerable commentators, “It’s a shake-up!” headlines another magazine. He’s no Flamby anymore.

This is, for better or for worse, a model display of the cliché of virility: boundless sexual energy and a sense of power and impunity. “Sexually, François Hollande doesn’t come across as a modern man anymore,” said Eric Fassin, a well-known sociologist, “On the contrary, he’s revived a traditional model in his economic policy as well as his romantic life, from here on in, the President has set a course, and he’s going to hold to it firmly. In brief, he’s become ‘a man’, ‘a hard guy, ‘a real one’, at the expense of his women….”

François Hollande. Flamby or firm?

François Hollande. Flamby or firm?

Firm, hard, real. According to friends and colleagues of the President (none of whom actually agree to go on the record) this is actually Hollande’s true nature revealing itself. In a story in the newspaper Le Parisien, someone cited as being “close to” the president says that “his physique makes people underestimate him. It’s a big mistake. Inside, he’s a blade of hard steel.”

Perhaps this blade of hard steel will take an invigorated approach to leading France and that he’ll hold firmly to the new economic course he set last week, pledging policies to make the economy more competitive. But Hollande appears to be dealing with the matter on a personal level, with Valerie Trierweiler, in the same firm, hard manner. He’s set a course and he’s holding to it firmly. Like a political matter, distant and business-like. Ouch. Hollande left Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children, in a similar way that evidently he’s been leaving Trierweiler for the past two years: gradually, silently, a little insidiously, without actually telling either woman until public reports would eventually force him to confirm that he was more or less already gone.

Which, even for a “magnificent baller,” is pretty shabby.

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