Marine Le Pen, representing the extreme right Front Nationale (FN), came in third in the primary round of the French presidential elections with almost 20% of the vote. The two candidates left standing are now competing with each other to get that vote.
Nicolas Sarkozy will not have to change very much to impress the FN voters – all he has to do is keep hammering on immigrants and wrap himself in the French flag, and most FN voters will be comfy with him, even if they do feel left out of his wine-and-cheese party version of the French Republic.
But François Hollande? He would have to change a lot, and I do not suggest that he does. Should I allow that it’s merely political pragmatism to talk nice to Le Pen voters, who are, after all, one of every five French voters? For a North American audience, I’ll have to present this in like terms, because you may not grasp how dangerous Le Pen is. That would be like Barack Obama going out of his way to embrace Rick Santorum voters. That would be like Thomas Mulcair going out of his way to embrace Rob Anders voters (sorry, it took me a bit to come up with an example of a Canadian politician as warped and extremist who hasn’t already been thrashed at the polls by Canadian voters). You get the idea? It sends the wrong message to people. It suggests that bug-eyed extremism is now a legitimate part of the political spectrum, and that decent politicians now respond to bigotry if there’s any chance that some mote of genuine populism might be wrapped up in it.
Yes, some people voting for these kinds of clowns might be, in some warped way, trying to express frustration with current political elites…but at the end of the day they just want to replace one kind of unfreedom with another, worse kind.
I do get the political logic behind this sort of thing, but there has to be a way to speak to voters who have legitimate concerns without appearing to accept that they voted for an extremist. Something on the order of “we disagree about many things, but here are some points of agreement”.
Barack Obama is not totally free from the criticism I’m leveling at Hollande. The treatment Obama gives of Ronald Reagan allows far too many Americans to delude themselves about the extensive damage Reaganism has done, and continues to do, to the United States. Obama wants to reach Reaganite voters, but there has to be a way of doing that which dwells on Obama’s positives rather than blurring the documentable history of Reagan’s negatives.
It may be that Obama is merely being pragmatic about a country that thought Reagan was worth naming a national airport after him. If you can’t beat him, join him, right?
I hope Hollande realises that the FN is a worse threat than that strategy allows. The FN is, as simply as one can put this, a party of racists. If you can’t beat them, you shouldn’t be president.
Please, Mr. Hollande – find a different way to speak to the electorate than this.