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Marine Le Pen Tries to Shake Off the Burden of Her Father

The other day a young National Front activist told me that if Marine Le Pen had another name, she would win the presidency by 10 points. It’s more or less indisputable that on the main issue of immigration, French sentiment is far closer to her views than to Emmanuel Macron’s; on the more complicated issue of Europe, public opinion splits more evenly. She has run a far better campaign than Macron, and would win hands down any “like to have a beer with” or “cares about people like you” contest. But the name, the stigma of being Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter, remains an issue: the circumstance that gave her a media platform and an instant political base when she first became a public figure in 2002 is now a weight around her ankles as she hopes to rise beyond being the candidate of the extrème droit National Front.

For the last few days the campaign has turned around history—the history of the National Front and Marine Le Pen’s efforts to transcend it by forging an electoral alliance with well-respected center-right politician Nicolas Dupont-Aignan; Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to keep the focus on the historic failings of the French far right, attending a memorial for Shoah remembrance on Sunday and today spending the morning at the place where right-wing militants pushed a Moroccan man into the Seine in 1995, where he drowned. I’m not sure these are the kind of historical questions French people are interested in.

As he has done regularly in recent years, Jean Marie Le Pen gave a May 1 speech before the statue of Joan of Arc. It’s in a nice square in the opulent center of Paris; on a holiday, perhaps 200 people, aging extreme-right militants or the simply curious, showed up. They were outnumbered by the French or international press: any attendee who wanted to be interviewed about what they thought about Jean Marie or France or Europe had ample opportunity to declaim before the cameras. As Alain Finkielkraut has pointed out, Marine Le Pen may have carried out the political murder of her father by kicking him out of the party, but the left (and, he might have added, the liberal press) insists on trying to resurrect him. At this point, Emmanuel Macron’s main electoral strategy is to link Marine Le Pen with the National Front, or with right-wing crimes committed long before National Front was born.

Still ready to play his assigned part, Jean Marie Le Pen, now 88, showed up wearing a bright red coat, paid homage to Joan of Arc, spoke some eloquent sentences about how we are all tied by cords to our parents and our nation and our history. At which point his microphone died, and no one could hear a word he said. He continued on, seemingly oblivious. Remarkably it took his team a full half hour to fix his sound system. When it was fixed, he gave some sobering statistics about French demographics and closed with a “Vive La France” and a slightly less emphatic “Vive la Republique.”

Jean Marie Le Pen was never an actual fascist; his play was to create a party where the various right-wing losers in France’s political battles—unreconstructed partisans of French Algeria, Vichyites, royalists—could find a political home without being ashamed of their roots and identity. It ensured him a platform and a permanent gadfly role in the French entertainment/political complex, and gave him a nice living; his actual impact on French political life was minimal.

The National Front became relevant only as it became obvious that conventional conservative politicians were failing to do what conservative politicians are elected to do—adapt to change, but preserve the institutions, the structures, the core national interests of the nations whose voters elect them. Marine Le Pen clearly recognized this, and set to work mainstreaming her father’s party. It’s a long process—you can’t fire everyone at once, and there are always surprises. This past week it was reported that the long-serving vice president of the party, known as a sort of diligent technocrat with little public role, had said something to an interviewer nearly 20 years ago questioning one of the accepted facts of the Holocaust (while distinguishing himself from out-and-out “negationists”). It was on allegedly on tape. He quickly resigned, but it reminded everyone that quarter of a century ago, Jean Marie Le Pen had created a scandal by minimizing the significance of the Holocaust, and one can assume he did not discourage those looking to advance in the party from doing the same. No one in the National Front expects Jean Marie Le Pen to help out his daughter by just shutting up during the campaign. Some claim he is jealous of his daughter’s success and hopes to undermine her. In the next week, the anti-National Front media (i.e., most of it) will give him ample access to the microphone.

While Macron was focusing on the Shoah (a kind of politics that Alain Finkielkraut, a child of survivors, thought profane to incorporate in electoral campaigning), Le Pen announced an alliance with Nicolas DuPont-Aignan and named him her prime minister if she won. DuPont-Aignan is one of those politicians who have hovered near the top for a while without quite breaking into the presidential tier. A good-looking graduate of ENA (the career equivalent of being a Harvard Law graduate if there were no other Ivy League law schools), a man associated with the Gaullist center until he broke and formed his own Euro-skeptic party Debout La France in 2008. He ran for president twice, obtaining a non-ridiculous 4.7 percent and finishing 6th in an 11-person field last week.

He endorsement of Marine Le Pen gives the latter something she had long sought and never quite achieved—an alliance with another, mainstream party, the ability to show that her National Front was a party like any other, and that those who agreed with it on many issues could form alliances with it. Dupont-Aignan is a better orator than anyone else the National Front has, and he is extremely persuasive in arguing that the long-standing division between the establishment right and the populist right must be transcended if France hopes to retain its sovereignty and confront its main problems. The alliance has made him an significant national figure while giving the National Front added credibility—a fact likely to endure whatever happens next Sunday. The old talking heads of the establishment right are having aneurysms denouncing DuPont-Aignan’s betrayal of “Republican values,” but to my ears at least, their protests sound rote and hollow.

change_me

Through all of this, Le Pen and Dupont-Aignan are hitting Macron hard. At her rally today Marine Le Pen reminded voters that five years ago, the socialist Hollande had said in a campaign rally that the “unnamed” enemy of France is “finance”—the big power of the big banks. Well, Marine declaimed, now we know the name and what do you know, it’s the name of Hollande’s poulain Emmanual Macron, the former (Rothschild) banker. The word means protégée, but also young colt or foal, and it sounds like it ought to mean “little chicken.” The 39-year-old Macron gets portrayed as young and weak and inexperienced and linked to timeless great power of finance at the same time.

It was discovered a few weeks ago that Macron’s campaign has some links to members of an Islamic organization, the UOIF. This too is talked about, and it’s an open question whether French voters are are more disturbed about links to ancient fascists or contemporary Islamists.

No polls have been published since Dupont-Aignan joined Le Pen. The latest ones had Macron still ahead by 19 or 20 points. Too much to make up in six days. My National Front contacts still say so. Nonetheless, if you just look at the images on TV, Le Pen should be winning.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Marine Le Pen Tries to Shake Off the Burden of Her Father"

#1 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 1, 2017 @ 1:27 pm

A great piece, Scott. Thanks for your insightful reports in the lead-up to Sunday’s election.

The New York Times’ Ross Douthat agrees that Marine Le Pen is right about all of the central issues in the French presidential election:

[1] “She is right that France as a whole, recent immigrants as well as natives, would benefit from a sustained mass-immigration halt.

[2] “She is right that the European Union has given too much unaccountable power to Brussels and Berlin and favored financial interests over ordinary citizens. And while many of her economic prescriptions are half-baked,

[3] “Her overarching critique of the euro is correct: Her country and her continent would be better off without it.”

However, Douthat says: “The French will presumably vote against her nonetheless. They will choose Macron, a callow creature of a failed consensus, over the possibility that the repulsive party’s standard-bearer might be right. That decision will be understandable.”

“Understandable”? But wait. Douthat’s not finished. Hold onto your knickers. It’s coming. Douthat:

“But it’s the kind of choice that has a way of getting offered again and again, until the public finally makes a different one.”

[1]

In other words, whether Marine Le Pen wins on this Sunday, or she wins on a Sunday in 2022, she – or someone with her agenda — is going to be elected President of the French Republic. They’re going to be elected because they’re right on all of the important issues.

#2 Comment By collin On May 1, 2017 @ 1:40 pm

And if Ross Perot won the Republican nomination and President in 1992, Hillary Clinton does not run in 2016. This is a massive alternative history because Marine Le Pen position was aided by her father’s leadership of the National Front. (Much like HRC First Lady experience put her on top of Democratic Party) So in a lot of ways it is impossible to separate the two. And does the conservative party go more in the direction of the National Front? I suspect very likely.

Long term, this is not just an immigration item but also a foreign trade item. And for France, they have a lot more foreign trade the US (ie German cars or Scottish oil) and these disruptions would be hard to break. (So the Scottish Independence on the British Pound might a closer parallel than Brexit who is struggling in the negotiations.)

#3 Comment By apples and oranges On May 1, 2017 @ 2:10 pm

It’s instructive to meditate the question of Le Pen, the National Front, fascism, anti-Semitism etc in light of the neoconservatives in America.

Without detailing persons, relevant bloodlines and associations, suffice to say that that many prominent neoconservatives were at one time Communists or deeply implicated in hard left political ideologies, or were the children of Communists or other hard leftists. Eventually they professed to have renounced the bloodiest ideology in human history, to have recanted, converted and become “conservative”.

Naive American conservatives rather too naively or wishfully accepted the “conversion”. Over time it became clear that many neoconservatives were clearly mostly interested in using US economic and military power, only secondarily or tangentially in real cultural, religious, or social conservatism, and then only insofar as it conduced to using US power in the Middle East, often as not on behalf of Israel.

We paid a staggering price for letting neoconservatives into the tent, most obviously in the economic and civil liberties consequences of our long-lived Middle East wars, but also in the failure to work as hard or effectively for living conservatism at home – for Americans, in other words – as for using American power abroad.

Turn to Le Pen. She is the child of a hard right former French paratrooper who started a nationalist party with fascistic and anti-Semitic elements – not actual Nazis perhaps, as some older neocons were actual Commies, but with elements verging in that direction. She claims, as the neocons claimed, to have renounced their repulsive former beliefs and associations (she kicked her own father out of the party, after all), and that what remains is valid, healthy: French.

Was the conversion and cleansing real? Should we believe it? Does not the example of neoconservatism in America suggest that it’s highly unlikely that the leopard has changed its spots, and that – like the neoconservatives – she and the National Front are flying a flag of convenience until they have a grip on power?

If there is a difference, and I think there is, it lies in the answer to “cui bono?” – Le Pen seems as French as she can be, and to be fighting for her people.

#4 Comment By Kirt Higdon On May 2, 2017 @ 12:34 am

I’m not French, so it makes no difference, but I hold against Marine Le Pen the way she treated her father. If she’s willing to deal that way with her own family, how can any non-related supporter trust her? She’s worse in that respect even than such political mafiosi as the Bushes, Clintons, Obamas, and Trumps.

#5 Comment By Pepe the Frog On May 2, 2017 @ 3:15 am

What makes financial power “timeless” exactly? I thought it dates to the 18th century or so. Hardly ancient.

#6 Comment By G Harvey On May 2, 2017 @ 10:27 am

“Nonetheless, if you just look at the images on TV, Le Pen should be winning.”

If the French had common sense of which they were not ashamed, Le Pen would be winning easily.

Liberalism is the suicide of the West.

#7 Comment By abandon ship On May 2, 2017 @ 2:41 pm

“I’m not French, so it makes no difference, but I hold against Marine Le Pen the way she treated her father. If she’s willing to deal that way with her own family, how can any non-related supporter trust her?”

Golly. How did you feel about Luke Skywalker? Or brothers on opposite sides in our Civil War?

#8 Comment By PRDoucette On May 2, 2017 @ 3:25 pm

Marie Le Pen is the proverbial pimple on the back of an elephant with the name of global capitalism. All those closed factories in France are not caused by immigrants but by conscious decisions made by the CEOs of ever growing multi-national capitalist corporations whose first allegiance is to providing the highest ROI corporation’s investors by moving their operations to countries where the highest ROI can be obtained. These global corporations really have little interest in seeing a multitude of nations states, each with their own set of rules, and would much prefer to deal with a governing body, like the EU, who sets rules for all their member states as this decreases the global corporations costs and results ultimately in a higher ROI.

Like voters in the UK and the US, supporters of Le Pen seem to want to recapture some idealized version of a glorious time in France’s past but in doing so miss the fact that the form of capitalism that brought France, the UK and the US the standard of living they enjoy and want in the future, has moved beyond the idea of nation states and sees the future in large trading blocs that can provide the market to consume an ever increasing level of productivity that is required for Capitalism to survive.

I understand that this change from a nation centric view of the world frightens many people, and not just in France, but thinking that withdrawing from the EU will restore “independence”, like the May in the UK is claiming, is a false hope that is more likely to lead to decline in the UK living standard, just as it would in France should Le Pen take France out of the EU.

Capitalism is a hard master, but it is perhaps worth remembering that 40 years ago China was seen as a threat to the US but because of the effects of Capitalism in China they have as much interest in making sure North Korea doesn’t lob something at the US as the damage caused to the US would be even worse for the Chinese economy. Even more interestingly perhaps instead of threatening military action a path to opening them up to Capitalist investment could be a more viable long term solution.

#9 Comment By Kirt Higdo On May 2, 2017 @ 6:33 pm

“Golly. How did you feel about Luke Skywalker? Or brothers on opposite sides in our Civil War?”

Seriously? Luke Skywalker is a fictional character in a series which lost my interest a long time ago. Brothers on opposite sides in a civil war or any war should ask themselves if what they are fighting for is worth killing each other for. In the US civil war, it clearly wasn’t. Even the unibomber’s brother refused to turn him in without assurances that the death penalty would not be sought. Marie Le Pen has tried to sacrifice her father for her political ambitions, very dishonorable conduct. Her father’s supposed crime (I guess it really is a crime under totalitarian French law) was to make a couple of statements which were inconveniently true, although not the entire truth.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 2, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

” . . . is a false hope that is more likely to lead to decline in the UK living standard, just as it would in France should Le Pen take France out of the EU.”

Given what the new economic rules and standards are that could hardly be unhealthy. The fact is that in the US our government has been propping up the economy with money no small amount to Wall Street.

The financial crisis should have been permitted to run its course – lowering the standards of everyone, especially those most responsible. The numerous times government has shielded the top tier from the consequences of their leadership, in the name of protecting jobs, they shortchange the very purpose of corrective market economies.

In other words, they prevent the real economy to manifest and prop up something false that in order to maintain the illusion of that standard of living must be continually propped up.

A home worth 120,000 is artificially kept high to 150,000 which is not it actual value. Whoever is left holding that property when the bubble pops doesn’t get a bail out, they get a foreclosiure notice. While the bail out reward those that created what is essentially a faux economy or an economy that is real for them on the backs of everyone else.

That’s the importance of the income gaps. That’s why using taxes to redistribute wealth and pay for government never get to the heart of the economic issues. They address an economy that does jot exist for most people.

It is a subversion of how capitalism works or is supposed to work. And we should making efforts to divorce congress from manipulating the scales.

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 2, 2017 @ 9:05 pm

” . . . is a false hope that is more likely to lead to decline in the UK living standard, just as it would in France should Le Pen take France out of the EU.”

Given what the new economic rules and standards are that could hardly be unhealthy. The fact is that in the US our government has been propping up the economy with money no small amount to Wall Street.

The financial crisis should have been permitted to run its course – lowering the standards of everyone, especially those most responsible. The numerous times government has shielded the top tier from the consequences of their leadership, in the name of protecting jobs, they shortchange the very purpose of corrective market economies.

In other words, they prevent the real economy to manifest and prop up something false that in order to maintain the illusion of that standard of living must be continually propped up.

A home worth 120,000 is artificially kept high to 150,000 which is not it actual value. Whoever is left holding that property when the bubble pops doesn’t get a bail out, they get a foreclosiure notice. While the bail out reward those that created what is essentially a faux economy or an economy that is real for them on the backs of everyone else.

That’s the importance of the income gaps. That’s why using taxes to redistribute wealth and pay for government never get to the heart of the economic issues. They address an economy that does jot exist for most people.

It is a subversion of how capitalism works or is supposed to work. And we should making efforts to divorce congress from manipulating the scales.

A drop in the standard of living does not have to be a catastrophe.

#12 Comment By fraternite On May 3, 2017 @ 9:45 am

@PRDoucette : “I understand that this change from a nation centric view of the world frightens many people, and not just in France, but thinking that withdrawing from the EU will restore “independence”, like the May in the UK is claiming, is a false hope that is more likely to lead to decline in the UK living standard, just as it would in France should Le Pen take France out of the EU.”

And the rest of us understand that from a globalist perspective, assertion of national and local prerogatives is frightening, and not just in France, and that there is a strong temptation, particularly on the part of those who have grown rich and sleek from globalism, to stamp out opposition to their agenda.

Greed and corruption are powerful, compelling masters, and it will be difficult for the globalists to adjust to a world where they have become mere citizens of the nations they have exploited and undermined in order to sustain and increase their own living standards, rather than inhabitants of an elite cocoon separate from and above their countrymen. Nonetheless it must be done.