I finally watched the replay of Marine Le Pen's appearance on L'Emission politique. I had already read a good deal of commentary on social media, much of it critical of the performance of the journalists as well as that of education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. The former were said to be too passive, the latter too aggressive. Curiously, many of these same critics admired the relative répondant of Patrick Buisson.
I find these judgments hard to understand. Marine Le Pen's style in encounters like these is that of a bulldozer. She makes up in volume what she lacks in logic. Her body language communicates contempt. She sneers and smirks when she dislikes a question. She dismisses troublesome lines of inquiry in advance with the weary defensive parry, "Ça commence," as if she's heard it all before. Which she has. She does not refute her critics; rather, she relegates them to the camp of the enemy in the "us against them" construct that passes for a political philosophy.
Journalists are at a disadvantage in this game. They cannot seek to dominate the conversation as she does because they rightly accept the rules of the game: She is the candidate, they are not, hence their role is to permit her to expose her views, not to argue for their own. They can try to point out weaknesses, but since they must let her dominate the floor, they can't really press their case. If her case rests on faulty logic--as it manifestly does in her confused discourse on the virtues of protectionism--they must trust the viewers to draw the correct conclusion. You can criticize François Lenglet, the all-too-ubiquitous economic journalist, for resorting to the silly prop of toy automobiles to make a point about outsourcing in the auto industry. But you can't fault him for speaking softly and allowing Le Pen to swagger about with her big stick. He was playing his role, she hers.
The political opponent is in a different position. She is free to vie for position with her antagonist, to raise her voice, to try to hold the floor. Vallaud-Belkacem used her freedom effectively, I thought, particularly in the exchange on écoles hors contrat. She's a tough cookie, and I thought she used her toughness to good advantage, putting the bullying Le Pen on the back foot.
As for Buisson, I can't see why other commentators thought he was the highlight of the evening. When he asked Le Pen to comment on the patriotism of Mélenchon and Fillon, he merely offered her an opening to define patriotism in such a way that she became its exemplar. His gambit in trying to get her to admit that her position on gay rights was in contradiction with her anti-liberalism in economics was pure logic-chopping. Apart from the frisson one enjoyed at seeing two gladiators of the far right jousting with each other, this passage was entirely empty.
The best moments in the show came when Le Pen confronted the student chefs. The sharp exchanges on national preference in hiring and on the consequences of an employment tax on foreign workers showed the heartlessness of Le Pen's doctrine by pitting her abstractions against the predicaments of actual human beings. Against journalists Le Pen has no trouble acting the part of the bully, but against ordinary people even she recognizes that there would be no profit in that. She didn't try to fudge her position but simply stated it and let it drop, without seeking to dominate her interlocutors, showing the degree to which her "leadership" is more un effet de plateau than a genuine quality.