Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Miserable Precedent? In France's 1st Election Round, Extremism’s Total Promises to Beat Either Mainstream Candidate

The election in France on Sunday won’t decide its next president but will more likely offer a miserable precedent
notes John Vinocur in the International Herald Tribune:
a success for a “Rejection Front” that combines the bleak compatibility of the extreme left and right.

Notionally at least, with the Left Front and National Fronts scores added together, the beyond-the-mainstream candidates’ total share of the vote could beat the individual first-round scores of either President Nicolas Sarkozy or the Socialist, François Hollande.

That doesn’t change the near certainty that Marine Le Pen at the far right and Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the left’s distant shore get eliminated on April 22 while Hollande and Sarkozy advance to the final round two weeks later.

But if the Rejection Front (my designation) does as well as most polls suggest, France will have legitimized two political currents that spurn serious solutions for France’s economic grief, reject civility and common sense and variously propose regression through loony yet authoritarian economics, class warfare, class or racial prejudices, anti-Western instincts, and the politics of endless rage.

Sarkozy and Hollande are each projected to win between 26 and 29 percent of the votes cast in the first round among 10 contenders. That means that if parallel estimates hold for Le Pen (16 to 18 percent) and Mélenchon (around 15), extremism’s total beats either mainstream guy.

This isn’t a nerdy detail, but a miserable political signpost in an important and usually intelligent country struggling to retain influence in the world.

Mélenchon, who has Communist Party backing, infantilizes the French with promises of an “insurrection” that in the face of the country’s pledges of austerity would create 500,000 new places in public nurseries, 200,000 new low-rent apartments per year, total reimbursement of all individual health expenditure and tenured status for 800,000 public service workers now without permanent contracts. It is not clear how the Left Front would handle the costs (the health bill alone is estimated at €40 billion yearly), but Mélenchon has given a hint: confiscation of annual individual income above €360,000.

Mélenchon’s world-view goes hand in hand with his economics. He describes the United States as “the world’s primary problem” and wants the U.S. Sixth Fleet out of the Mediterranean. More: Hugo Chávez of Venezuela is a hero, the Chinese invasion of Tibet was justified, and Cuba isn’t a dictatorship.

More on Mélenchon's s worldview: A French Presidential Candidate Vows to Valiantly Fight the American Empire and Bring the World Out From Under Its Domineering Shadow.
In a French political universe where no one need tell a significant percentage of the truth, dealing in fantasy is an easy alternative. The problem with Mélenchon is that his routine is showing it works in 2012 France. As Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the left-wing ecologist politician, has said, “He’s succeeded in restoring national nostalgia for old-time class conflict and statist tradition.”

While Mélenchon’s role in the Rejection Front refuses reality, Marine Le Pen’s National Front summons French instincts in the direction of bigotry and spite.
Read the whole thing but be sure not to miss John Vinocur's conclusion:
Through their complaisant maneuvering, Sarkozy and Hollande have reduced the stature of responsible politics in France and with it given both halves of the Rejection Front enough momentum so that, side by side, they may enter the National Assembly in June legislative elections. Leaving this likely indelible (and repugnant) trace behind, the quality of the French presidential race and runoff round beginning Monday has no place to go but up.