Friday, April 29, 2011

Le Pen in the Times

The New York Times profiles Marine Le Pen--a remarkably uncritical piece, in my view, quite shocking in the degree to which it lends itself to her effort to differentiate herself from her father and.portray the party as a champion of the working man. "Obama is way to the right of us,” she says, and the interviewer lets her get away with it.


randcoop said...

I think the article was quite good. The analysis of the success of the National Front and of the other right wing parties of Europe was quite accurate. And that success is possible in part because of the failures of left wing parties to articulate their positions, propose useful responses, and differentiate themselves from the centres running the countries. In the two countries being run by socialist parties (Greece and Spain), the austerity policies enacted have been no different than they would have been had David Cameron been elected. This appalling capitulation to money and power has left the left in a shambles.

Le Pen's comment about Obama was specifically with regard to his economic policies. On what grounds would the reporter have challenged it? Perhaps you think that Obama is to the left of Le Pen because he opposes tax cuts for millionaires? But no, Obama signed an extension of that bill. Perhaps it's because at the height of the crisis, Obama supported the nationalisation of failing banks? But no, he didn't. Perhaps it's because Obama at least agrees with Le Pen about nationalised health care?

Even if the comment were made in the context of foreign policy, you'd be hard pressed to argue. After all, Obama is fighting two wars against Muslim nations, maintaining the prisons at Guantanamo, and supporting the Netanyahu government as it builds settlements.

With regard to immigration, finally, you might be right. It might be that Obama is to the left of Le Pen in this regard. But we have little in the way of actual policy to support that intuition. The Obama administration has done nothing with regard to immigration to this point.

The Left must address the threat from this populist right wing. This article might help in that regard, by laying out the methodology of those parties.

Anonymous said...

randcoop: the VERY existence of Obama as president is a refutation of Le Pen's theories...
As far as we know, President Obama has never used inflamatory rhetorics blaming Hispanics for all of the US' woes, nor does he plan to make Jewish and Muslim kids eat pork or go without their school lunch. He doesn't plan to revert to Confederate money to stick it to the Chinese who've got our debt, and he doesn't support a faith over other beliefs to guide the nation.
In short... yes, the interviewer didn't do his job.
But this also underscores how Ms.Le Pen can so fascinate and succeed, hence, the danger she represents.
In the meanwhile, the French Soccer Federation was contemplating reducing the number of "Black" (Island-born or African parents) and North African kids who are streamlined into professional clubs. We're talking 11-13 year olds chosen based on their skin color rather than talent. The Federation hastily defended itself by saying it only meant foreign-born players who returned to their home country but once pressed were only able to come up with 2 names.
The Ministère has launched an investigation. Worried Martiniquais parents who had moved near a club so that their sons could have training proportional to their talent were interviewed.

Anonymous said...

I'll add* that this sentence strikes me as deeply true:
"Where he has become, to many, a classic say-anything-to-please-anyone politician, Le Pen’s followers find her to be a straight-talker."
People on the right AND on the left distrust Sarkozy but feel that she "calls it as she sees it", even if it may not be true in the absolute sense and may even clash with their beliefs, they appreciate what they believe is a politician who speaks her mind. (Of course, MLP is pandering just as Sarkozy is, but her approach is different, untested, not disbelieved yet - whereas Sarkozy is now widely believed to say instead of doing, neutering the force of his words.)

BTW: this paragraph, starting with
"When I asked Le Pen to identify something from her childhood that formed her"
is MLP replaying the exact same scene, with the same intent and the same result, as what she did in 2006 (I think) to Ha'aretz. It's impressive in its carefully planned effects of identification neutralization of extremism, sympathy ( the story's slightly improved - Ha'aretz must have been a test) but it's the basic same, showing that the grounds for what appeared as a meteoric rise had been carefully prepared for a while, and the change of ideology (for example, from antisemitism to Muslims-as-too-religious-for everyone's-good or from the old Fn's Vichy-style-capitalisme+ greed-is-good mix to her current stance) has been constructed over time and groomed for journalists from various countries with specific reference points for each.
I find MLP's both fascinating and scary for these reasons.

*(Sorry, forgot to sign earlier post)

randcoop said...

You didn't actually address any of my comments regarding Obama or Le Pen and yet you insist that somehow the interviewer missed something. I'd suggest that perhaps you've missed much about Obama and Le Pen.

Obama's treatment of race issues in the US has been abysmal. While his rhetoric soars above the racism and xenophobia of Le Pen, he offers nothing substantive. Obama seems to want to deny his own mixed race heritage, preferring instead to identify himself as African American on the US census. This not only buys into the US hatred of miscegenation (the Ku Klux Klan gained popularity by taunting white men with the threat that their women were being violated by black men). It also denies a glorious American reality, which is that the races have indeed been mixed. For all bi-racial Americans, this is an enormous slight on the president's part.

But more important, Obama hasn't done anything to address the ongoing race divisions that exist in the US. Nothing on the de facto segregated housing, nothing on the de facto segregated schools, nothing on the reality of black unemployment and black incarceration.

Le Pen's comment about Obama in the article had a clear target; the interviewer notes that she followed it with a comment about the financial crisis not being able to occur with proper Federal regulation. In this regard, she is absolutely correct: Obama is to her right. Obama does not support serious regulation of the financial industry in the US and hasn't achieved significant reform even in the face of the crisis.

What should the reporter have said when confronted by this truth? No, Ms. Le Pen, you don't really support financial industry regulation? Or no, Ms. Le Pen, Obama does?

Unknown said...

What should the reporter have said? Perhaps this: "Mme Le Pen, your call for financial regulation is coupled with your insistence that French workers would be better off if France jettisoned the euro, left the EU, and established protectionist barriers around France. What kind of financial regulation would you propose to prevent the massive bank run that would occur if France did these things? Would you impose restrictions on capital movements into and out of France? Are you aware that France receives more foreign direct investment than any other European country? How many jobs do you estimate would be lost if France adopted your economic proposals?" Answer to these questions would generate debate rather than futile bandying of the labels "left" and "right."

randcoop said...

Interesting. Though such a question about France vis a vis the euro would not contradict Le Pen's comment about Obama's economic position, it would certainly have been an interesting one to ask.

It's not at all clear to me, incidentally, that the end of French participation in the euro zone would result in the terrible consequences you foresee. What seems clear is that Greece, Ireland, and Portugal would fare better if they were to withdraw from the euro. If so, they'd be able to devalue their currency and avoid much of the draconian austerity that is being imposed on them by the EU.

I agree that France is in a different boat and so the results of Le Pen's policy might not be so positive. And I agree, too, that it would be interesting to have the interviewer ask these questions. But it seems to me that this is a bit less of a criticism than was originally posted. The interviewer did a good job of addressing much that Le Pen has done and represents and did a good job of describing how the right wing has managed this kind of populist appeal. We can nitpick with the approach, but I don't think it fair to accuse the reporter of abdication of responsibility.

Anonymous said...

I noticed that several serious anglophone newspapers are touting the idea that Jean-Marie Le Pen favourite target was the Jews, and that his daughter has switched to now bashing the Muslims. It's wrong. The father specialised in hating Arabs (principally Algerians), and came only occasionally with an antisemitic remark, which got more play in the international press.

Russell Shorto said...

I’m a bit late in adding my two cents here because I only just noticed these posts about my profile of Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s NYT Magazine. As to Mr. Goldhammer’s remarks that I allowed Le Pen to get away with things, I believe the piece covered nearly everything he says it should have, by way of offering counterpoints. The counters were not necessarily directly following her comments, however, and many were in the words of others I quoted who oppose her. I was in this case a journalist writing a profile--so letting her make her case and also putting it in historical context and giving room for contrary views--not a blogger or editorial writer The one point he raises that I did not include was about what the consequences would be of France pulling out of the euro. A good line to pursue, but in a 3000 word piece you have limited space to cover topics. To my mind, the main point of her rise, and thus of my article as well as of followups on my own blog (, is the extent to which the new far right is taking on pieces of leftist economic agenda. I agree with randcoop that the success of Le Pen and others is related to the failure of the left to articulate answers to current crises. That failure--and the success of this new movement--needs much more attention in the U.S. Russell Shorto

Unknown said...

Thanks for your response, Russell. I agree that I was unduly harsh on your piece. I appreciate your temperate rejoinder.