During the recent discussion here about Jean Le Pen, Robert Marchenoir provided us with some insightful analysis of Mr. Le Pen and his place in the French political context:
The problem with Le Pen is he’s not a politician at all. He’s not really concerned about furthering his ideas, or convincing people, or winning power. He’s more of a professional provocateur.
He’s been right on immigration, and he was practically alone on this for a very long time. He says some truths on Europe (but I wouldn’t bet on him to come up with an alternative solution).
And his agenda is full of contradictions. He can’t make his mind about many issues.
He has some libertarian policies, but he wants the state to protect the people more, not less. He’s broadly against Muslim immigration, but there is a distinct and persistent anti-Semitic streak within him and his party.
He can’t resist churning up a regular flow of offending jokes during interviews. They go along well with his voters, because they love to see the old man dissing the elites.
However, they turn off just about everybody else, and they prevent him from advancing whatever might be correct in his ideas.
It’s not any jokes, either. He, and others within his party, have been suggesting for years now that, you know, the Holocaust might have been a bit overstated… maybe there were not that many dead Jews after all… anyway we should look into the matter — this sort of thing.
Also, he is believed to have tortured prisoners himself during the Algerian war (he admitted to it, then denied it), which makes him unacceptable to a lot of Frenchmen as a legitimate politician.
Essentially, Le Pen is a man from the past. He’s quite old now, and has resisted grooming his successor for too long, although his daughter stands a good chance to take the leadership of his party after him.
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But apart from that, he never really understood his times. He’s stuck with obsolete, ineffective tendencies of the French psyche. Although he likes to portray himself as the only opponent to the class of professional politicians who never quit, he was himself elected a member of parliament more than half a century ago, and it shows.
He represents the small shop-keepers who were pushed aside by supermarkets forty years ago. Decent people for sure, but their era isn’t about to come back.
He represents Frenchmen whose ancestors colonised Algeria and raised families there in the 19th century, before being ignominiously expelled when Algeria became independent in 1962. A sad fate certainly, but the clock can’t be turned back, and Le Pen never came up with a plausible proposition to heal the wounds that are still gaping on both sides — only nostalgia for the old empire.
He represents this old, irrational, anti-Semitic streak, which is closely intertwined nowadays with traditional French anti-Americanism. Not that there is nothing to be said against US policies and way of life, but this brand of anti-Americanism is not going anywhere.
Just to give you an idea, young, brilliant Frenchmen would rather tend nowadays to emigrate to the US — or to Ireland, or to China — in order to get a job, gain experience and see the world. This does not mean they are uncritical about America; just that this worldview of America as the devil is increasingly obsolete, even if it has quite a lot of traction yet in all walks of French society.
Contrast this with the way Geert Wilders handles the Muslim issue. I have no idea about his views on agricultural policy, health care, the euro and whatnot.
However, his moves on Islam show he’s looking straight into the future — not the past, he concentrates on the fundamental problems — not on details, he speaks straight, does not mince words but does not seek to gratuitously offend either — and he actually puts his life on the line.
At the same time, you can hear Le Pen boasting about having done menial errands for the Resistance during World War II (it might be true, or not), and about having served in the military in Algeria.
More recently, he manhandled a female, socialist opponent during an electoral campaign (and was convicted for that, as far as I remember).
Apart from that, he’s quite safe.
Wilders and Le Pen are a world apart.