The sta­tus quo sur­vives in France, but in ru­ins

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - BY WESLEY PRU­DEN Wesley Pru­den is ed­i­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

The French eas­ily em­brace con­tra­dic­tion and chaos. It’s what makes their politics work: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose,” and they said it first: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The Sun­day na­tional elec­tion in France proved it again.

The two es­tab­lished po­lit­i­cal par­ties fin­ished far out of the money, and Im­manuel Macron, the new fron­trun­ner, is a banker who is the pre­ferred can­di­date of the cur­rent So­cial­ist pres­i­dent, Fran­cois Hol­lande, who is so un­pop­u­lar that he was the first pres­i­dent not to stand for re-elec­tion since World War II. He was so un­pop­u­lar, in fact, that he didn’t pub­licly en­dorse M. Macron lest it be the kiss of death.

M. Macron polled 24 per­cent of the vote in the first round, barely 2 per­cent more than Marine Le Pen, the most charis­matic can­di­date but who is counted out in the May 7 run-off be­cause she is thought to be too far to the right of ev­ery­body else. The only left-wing can­di­date thought to have a chance to make the run-off was Jean-Luc Me­len­chon, who wanted to lead France out of the Euro­pean Union and NATO and join Cuba and Venezuela and Cuba in some­thing called the “Bo­li­var­ian Al­liance.” In ad­di­tion to chaotic, French politics can be ide­o­log­i­cally nuts.

Ev­ery­body counts Marine Le Pen out, and con­ven­tional wis­dom is of­ten but not al­ways wrong. The pub­lic-opin­ion polls were wrong in pre­dict­ing the out­come of the ref­er­en­dum of the Bri­tish vote to leave the Euro­pean Union, and of course spec­tac­u­larly, dra­mat­i­cally, com­i­cally, far­ci­cally, trag­i­cally (pick your ad­jec­tive) and fa­mously wrong in crown­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton the first woman as pres­i­dent of the United States.

The clos­est thing to a “nor­mal,” i.e., con­ven­tional, can­di­date was Fran­cois Fil­lon, a for­mer prime min­is­ter who posed as a dis­ci­ple of Mag­gie Thatcher and who was nev­er­the­less re­garded by many of the elites as re­spectable enough. But there were skele­tons in his closet and he couldn’t keep the closet door shut. Scan­dal fol­lowed scan­dal. There’s a cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tion now in the juici­est of these, his pay­ing of more than a mil­lion dol­lars in govern­ment money to his wife and oth­ers in his fam­ily who were hired as “par­lia­men­tary as­sis­tants.” He didn’t even have to teach them to type.

In the end, he emerged as the sta­tus-quo can­di­date of an elec­torate yearn­ing for some­one to up­set the sta­tus quo. He’s young, en­er­getic and at­trac­tive, and nat­u­rally com­pared to the icon of charisma, John F. Kennedy. JFK was a long time ago, but po­lit­i­cal writ­ers on both sides of the At­lantic are fond of cliches.

M. Macron goes into the run-off with Marine Le Pen all but stag­ger­ing un­der great ex­pec­ta­tions and good wishes of “re­spectable” in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­u­als who are ter­ri­fied of Madame Le Pen and what would be the “de­plorables” of Hil­lary­world. Nice peo­ple don’t let nice peo­ple vote for can­di­dates who aren’t very nice, nei­ther here nor there. Light­ning of a rare and se­ri­ous kind would have to strike and light­ning in France is not like the light­ning of what the French, with a sneer, call “the An­gloSax­ons.” In the French ver­nac­u­lar, every­one else, like it or not, are “An­glo-Sax­ons.”

But the French world, like the world of every­one else, has been turned up­side down, and mak­ing sense of elec­tions is dif­fi­cult. The usual be­liefs and val­ues of or­di­nary French­men — the cer­tainty that French cul­ture, the ver­i­ties of the per­ma­nently true, the very ideal of French cit­i­zen­ship — have been called into ques­tion. One inquirer into the nooks and shad­ows of the French elec­tion cam­paign, Char­lie Cook of City Journal, writes that or­di­nary French­men he en­coun­tered were re­luc­tant to talk about politics lest they fall into the “many trap­doors of po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion,” es­pe­cially vot­ers of the Na­tional Front.

That would be the party of Marine Le Pen, who has made talk­ing about the for­bid­den in po­lite par­lors pos­si­ble for the brave and dar­ing. She cam­paigns boldly in de­fense of bor­ders and na­tional iden­tity, op­poses the mass mi­gra­tion that is stran­gling French iden­tity, and na­tional sovereignty and the trans­fer the author­ity of na­tional gov­ern­ments to in­ter­na­tional bod­ies.

These are the val­ues and con­sid­er­a­tions that the elites, in France as in Bri­tain and the United States, don’t want to talk about and don’t want any­one else to talk about. Si­lence won’t make them go away, but the wealthy and the well-con­nected can still live lives obliv­i­ous to things un­pleas­ant.

Madame Le Pen will make a lot of these peo­ple very un­com­fort­able over the next fort­night, if in the end she can­not shake her fa­ther’s rough rep­u­ta­tion writ­ten in a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign be­fore hers. But the de­plorables of France, like the de­plorables in Amer­ica, are not go­ing away. Other sea­sons will pro­duce other can­di­dates. Things must change to stay the same.


Marine Le Pen

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