Friday, March 11, 2011

The Solution of Despair

The polls showing Marine Le Pen's inexorable rise have been heavily criticized. Virginie Martin argues that the criticism misses the point.

Mais comment cette classe politique et médiatique peut-elle être à ce point enfermée dans sa tour d'ivoire pour ne pas sentir ce vent venir ? Comment depuis 1995, puis 1997 puis 2002 ne pas vouloir comprendre que cette population tentée par le vote frontiste existe et qu'elle tente – vainement – d'adresser des messages et dire ses malaises ?

I think this is absolutely right. What's more, watching France2 last night, I was no longer so confident that if Marine Le Pen does survive the first round by passing Sarkozy, she will surely lose to the candidate of the Left. Rank-and-file members of the UMP were interviewed at a meeting. Would they vote FN if the other candidate were of the Left? To a woman (all the interviewees were women), they said yes. A vote for Marine Le Pen was thinkable; a vote for a "leftist" was not.

So republican solidarity seems to work only one way, and the taboo on voting FN if you're on the right seems to be fraying rapidly. Admittedly, this is anecdotal evidence at its worst. But it was bracing to listen to these women, who still seemed to fear the Left as if the Red Army were at the gates yet felt not the slightest frisson at the thought of voting for the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen. It made the blood run cold. I still doubt that there are enough such people to make an FN presidency possible, but my confidence is no longer absolute.


Mark said...

Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind: this shows fundamental failures of politics, society and education. Can any parallels be drawn to the tea party in the USA? It seems scarily familiar because it looks like the turkeys are going to vote for Christmas.

Kirk said...


You contradict yourself here:

"Would they vote FN if the other candidate were of the Left? To a woman (all the interviewees were women), they said no. A vote for Marine Le Pen was thinkable; a vote for a "leftist" was not."

They were asked if they would vote FN, and they said no...

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Kirk, thanks, I meant to type yes. Corrected now. As for the Tea Party parallel, I think there's something to it. Yes, the Tea Party is new, but only in having brought together resentments that have existed on the American Right for years. What is new is having them coalesce in a national rather than regional movement.

Kirk said...

Art said:

"Yes, the Tea Party is new, but only in having brought together resentments that have existed on the American Right for years. What is new is having them coalesce in a national rather than regional movement."

Yes, I agree. However, the FN certainly was a manifestation of age-old sentiments too when it was formed. It has lived through decades, and is now in "FN 2.0" mode with a different face. I think the FN, while not necessarily well funded, does have political capital having had a number of elected officials over the decades, unlike the "Tea Party," which isn't actually a party, and whose elected officials have already either started making costly errors, or have gotten Washingtonitis and are abandonning the views that got them elected. (Not all, of course...)

Arthur Goldhammer said...

This comment is from Kirk, whose posts keep getting deleted, so I'm posting it for him:

"KIRK: While it does seem likely that the numbers will be higher than in the past, and while there is a good chance that "La Marine" may make it to the second round, I can't imagine her winning. I think, Art, that your despair has gotten the better of you. I'm not convinced that there will be that many more voters who go in that direction, because the anonymity of elections has already allowed people to vote FN, strongly in some areas. (Where I live, there are some towns that get more than 20%.) I think the difference is that now more people are willing to admit to voting FN to pollsters.

Two things come to mind: first, the fact that Mitterand more or less helped give the FN power to split the right, a very short-sighted political maneuver. Second, the bizarre system of having more than a dozen small-party candidates siphoning off votes in the first round leads to this sort of possibliity.

As to Mark's comment, I don't see a parallel with the "Tea Party." They're a very new movement; the FN has been around for decades, and has grown organically."

bernard said...

Kirk, I think, misses the central point. So the question I would want to ask him is this: would you live in a country where an FN leader makes close to 40% in a secound round presidential election against a social-democrat (that, incidentally is my guess as to what the result would be)? I would not.

Kirk said...


You're not embarassed that so many people already vote for extremist candidates, on the left and on the right? From the hunters to the royalists, from the Trotskyists to the ecologists, there are far too many extremists or single-issue parties that are given credibility through France's electonal system.

BTW, I think it's shameful that, in my part of France, as many as 25% of people vote FN. But it's just as shameful, if not even more so, that 10-20% of people vote for totalitarian extremists on the left...

Anonymous said...

Marine Le Pen is perceived as "mainstream" and if she's mainstream, then it's no longer shameful to vote for her.
The "Marine Blue Wave" insists on restoring public services and to focus on old people whose money is apparently taken by Sarkozy to build mosques in every village.

Some UMP leaders who said that "of course" they'd vote for a PS candidate if it were PS or LE Pen, were rebuked by Nicolas Sarkozy.
"Plutôt Hitler que Blum" as they said in textbooks.

Add to this the fact that many people on the left won't vote for Sarkozy no matter what, first because they felt duped after voting for Chirac, second because they disliked Chirac for being on the right but he was a "respectable" politician, whereas Sarkozy is perceived as a liar who brings shame and ruin to the country.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, I think the difference between the radical left and the radical right is that the radical left may influence some speeches' rhetorics, but it does not and has never influenced policy.

Whereas the radical right not only inspires speeches (such as the sheep slaughtered in bathtubs by Sarkozy, in 2007), but also policy - ministère de l'identité nationale, shutting down of refugees' visas, roundups of school kids (recently I was in a town where a middle school kid was taken in his pj's at 6am because he was suspected of being 18. He was illegal, but 14. His neighbors, teachers, and classmates publicized the case, a great outrage swelled, but he was kept with adults in a detention center for over 2 weeks because the administration wouldn't admit to its mistake.)

Furthermore, France has an example of the right and radical right getting together to rule, whereas as of now the trotskyists never ruled anything, in part because they won't until the workers' paradise has been established. When the communists came to power, they surprised even those who feared them by proving rather mild.

Voting for the radical left is pointless but harmless, whereas voting for the radical right is dangerous for democracy.

bernard said...

to give a belated answer to Kirk, I would have to say that, in France, those who vote FN are hateful idiots, while those who vote extreme left are simply deluded idiots. Not quite the same danger to society and to me personally.

FrédéricLN said...

@ bernard : we do not have SO MANY hateful idiots in France.

@ Art : indeed, just today (as I'm campaigning for "les cantonales") I was comparing Marine Le Pen to Sarah Palin. I don't know how relevant the comparison is to themselves, but I guess their image among the public is quite the same: a courageous young woman against a mafia of powerful old men…

And just today too, I was discussing about a presidential "second turn". I don't know at all about the outcome. A woman who votes for the left told us this afternoon that, in case of a second turn Sarkozy-LePen, she would not go to vote (whereas she voted for Chirac against Le Pen in 2002). And in the morning, as we had some "arguments" with a Communist militant on the market, I ended up by saying that against Le Pen, we would have to close all these old debates and find common ground between us- and he agreed fully.

Serious times ahead. Those who haven't read "Le quai de Ouistreham" yet, please do.

Le pire n'est pas sûr, the worse case isn't granted to occur - but that's the case we must prepare ourselves.

Anonymous said...

FrédéricLN, I second your request "read le quai de Ouistreham". It's the most essential French book published in the past year (at least).

Cincinna said...


An historical correction to your post:
  The expression, used by the Roman Catholic anti-Semitic Right in France in the 1930's was "vaut mieux Hitler que Blum". It had everything to do with the fact that Blum was a Jew, little or nothing to do with his Leftist politics. 

Please don't conflate the history & politics of the 30's with today.