You’ve got to hand it to Emmanuel Macron (pictured above, on Monday): it takes serious nerve for a French President who is struggling in the polls to deliver a speech about the need to reform the welfare state from Versailles palace using cake as a rhetorical device. No, seriously – that really happened. Let’s assume that the 40-year-old former investment banker, who has already taken flak from domestic opponents for his aloof, allegedly king-like approach to the presidency, is acting rationally.
What message was he trying to send here?
We’ve noted before that Macron, like Donald Trump, is a political outsider who wants to project strength. By reveling in the ceremony and trappings of office – whether it’s riding a military jeep to his inauguration or walking between rows of ceremonial guards, at an estimated cost of $350,000, to deliver a State-of-the-Union-like address at Versailles – Macron is signaling that the xenophobic nationalists who are threatening to unwind decades of liberal democracy in Europe don’t have a monopoly on patriotism. There’s a risk that by trying too hard to inject gravitas into his presidency, he ends up alienating more voters than he charms. But it does help explain the puzzling optics.