Fear and Loathing is subsiding in Paris.
For that matter, a collective sigh of relief is being heard across most of Europe.
Russia winces in disgust, but is not particularly surprised.
Most Americans are completely oblivious.
A week ago Sunday, the French had an election… well, to be fair, a “second election”. The French system has a general presidential election, then a run-off among the two top vote-getters. This time around the combatants were the incumbent President Macron and the surprising perennial candidate Marie Le Pen. What was intriguing about this election was not these two candidates. What was surprising was the fact that in the final run-off, it was actually these two candidates.
France has had a dubious history of mixing Nationalism and Socialism. Yes… put those two words together and you have an ugly outcome. Still, the country is generally leftist. Just as most people on both the right and the left will acknowledge the U.S. is generally center right, it has been taken as almost religious doctrine that France is leftist with occasional soirées towards the center. The last “center right” president was Nicholas Sarkosy and, frankly, he was far more oriented towards the center than he was the right.
In the late 1970s, Marie Le Pen’s father started a political party called The National Front. He and some fellow service members were pissed off at the degradation of French nationalism, especially Charles De Gaulle’s ultimate decision to release French control of Algeria. Jean-Marie Le Pen (the father) has been accused of some pretty nasty promulgation of political thought, from abject anti-semitism to your garden variety permissive racism. Some of this is absolutely legitimate; some of it is frankly a little drummed up. I mean hey… if you are going to have a “France First” agenda, you kinda have throw a little red meat around, no? The easiest morsel to put on the political table is that the “others” are not worthy of sitting down at the table with the adults and discussing the future of France. That being said, most of the French polity for years has been largely dismissive of The National Front and its now sorta kinder, gentler version: The National Rally. (God, I hate that name.)
This election cycle was a little bit more interesting though. The French, generally and interestingly enough the Parisians especially, have become increasingly dissatisfied with President Macron. He has gone from being a political outsider to now being firmly established as well… the establishment. And the “establishment” has not done particularly well. Money is getting tight, and Macron has floated the idea of increasing the retirement age from 62 to 65 (sac re blu!). He has also appeared pathetically naive in his shuttle diplomacy between Paris and Moscow meeting with Putin as the war in Ukraine was poised to tip off. As you are well aware, his efforts were an abject failure. (Though, to be sure, he was not exactly aided by the Biden Administration that, for all intents and purposes, spent weeks egging on Putin.)
So there is an initial election where Macron and Le Pen both are the two big vote-getters. The true liberal candidate was left devastated in the polls. This, in my opinion, is the most interesting aspect of this race. The people of France were clearly annoyed with Macron, but they were also deeply suspicious of returning to the heady days of state-run everything, and the annoying movement towards a leftist view of “social justice”.
The runoff, however, was far more decisive. Macron won by almost 18%. This would suggest that many people who had voted for Le Pen in the first round switched sides and voted for Macron.
Perhaps they were upset with her performance at the debate preceding the national election where she held firm on her position that Russia should not be “overly sanctioned”. The fact that she has openly praised Vlad the Putin in the past clearly was problematic for her as well. Also, it would appear the people of France generally don’t like the idea of two tiers of government access. (She had argued that programs available for French citizens should be limited to just French Citizens… those living in France… legally… should not have access to French largess.)
Marie Le Pen came across in voters’ minds not as a principled Constitutionalist who wanted to preserve the philosophical underpinnings of French Society; she came across as a populist who was unmoored by political philosophy and willing to trample on the rights of the minority to shore up support from what she suspected was the majority.
Those voters were probably correct. Thus, a relatively unpopular incumbent won reelection. The axiom holds true: You are not judged on your merits; you are judged in comparison to your potential replacement.
Europe, as I mentioned, was relieved. Le Pen had posited the idea of leaving NATO and potentially even leaving the EU (a la Brexit). Macron, by contrast, has been a full-throated supporter of NATO, the EU, and anything he can find that would expand French influence on the continent. This translates to investment, and it would appear, at the very least, that the French Juggernaut will continue to provide the necessary resources to hungry European politicians for the foreseeable future.