Quotulatiousness

May 6, 2017

Marine Le Pen versus Emmanuel Macron

Filed under: France, Media, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle is in France this week and watched the televised debate between Le Pen and Macron on Wednesday. She found some interesting parallels between it and the US presidential debates, but some significant differences, too:

Watching last night’s presidential debate here in France, I found it hard not to think about our own presidential debates in the U.S., lo these many months ago. In many ways, it was the same: the populist upstart against the center-left representative of the establishment, the status quo against the YOLO, the woman against the man. In other ways, it was very different — which is why, according to almost everyone, Emmanuel Macron is going to be elected president next week, and Marine Le Pen will not.

Macron, like Hillary Clinton, is the candidate of “more of the same, but with, you know, more of the same.” His contempt for Le Pen was obvious, and if this were an American debate, would have hurt him. My French is good enough to read a newspaper (very slowly) and to sort of follow the debate as long as no one else was talking. So as I watched, I paid attention to tone and body language as much as content.

[…]

Le Pen, like Trump, is basically the candidate of “things were better 40 years ago, so let’s go back there.” And it’s easy to understand why that’s appealing for a lot of voters in both France and America. The problem is, even if it were desirable to migrate en masse back to the mid-20th century, no one knows how to do it. France may be struggling to integrate its immigrants, but they are here, and cannot simply be removed the way one might get rid of a piece of furniture that clashes with the rest of the décor. Trade may have resulted in painful deindustrialization, but de-industrialization is a one-way street, and pulling out of those trade relationships will not bring back the lost factories. The euro may have been a very bad idea — no, strike that, the euro was a very bad idea, probably the worst one France has had since “let’s get into a land war in Southeast Asia” — but leaving the euro is not the same as having never adopted it. In the short term, at least, it would be catastrophically messy.

To this, Le Pen’s supporters might reply “but at least we could stop making things worse.” But even if you hold out more hope for her agenda than I do, the fact remains that if you reject the status quo in favor of radical change, you necessarily raise the risk that things will get much worse. We know approximately what the status quo looks like. Radical action means launching off into the dark. Which is why radical candidates inevitably seem less prepared, knowledgeable and plausible than their mainstream opponents.

That said, compared to Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen sounds like a wonk’s wonk. Nor does she have his propensity to lose his cool. Watching the French debate, I was struck by a repeated thought: if Clinton had had Le Pen’s speaking ability, she would be president now. During the campaign, and after, Clinton’s supporters frequently complained that Clinton was being penalized for being an older woman. But Le Pen is living proof that middle-aged ladies can be effective politicians. I don’t like her agenda, and I really don’t like her party. But looking strictly at effectiveness on the stump, she’s pretty good.

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