Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, May 3, 2017
The final debate in the French presidential elections has just finished. In a clash of radically different worldviews, the nationalist Marine Le Pen and the globalist Emmanuel Macron traded blows in what is widely seen as Miss Le Pen’s last chance to pull ahead before the final round of voting on Sunday. Miss Le Pen is trailing the former Rothschild banker 41 percent to 59 percent, according to the latest polls, though in the last few days her support has climbed after a dip to 33 percent. Some 15 percent of voters are undecided, and all of them, along with a few Macron supporters, would have to vote for Miss Le Pen for her to win.
Marine Le Pen has made great progress compared to her father, Jean-Marie, who won through to the second round in the presidential election of 2002. He was then crushed 82 to 18 percent in the run-off with Jacques Chirac. Mr. Chirac refused even to debate Mr. Le Pen, disdaining a man he accused of flouting “Republican values.” In the increasingly nationalist climate in France, Mr. Macron would rightly have been accused of cowardice if he had tried to strike such a pose.
This debate was more proof that what used to be called the cordon sanitaire, whereby all politicians treated nationalists as untouchable lepers, is collapsing. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a conservative who came in sixth in the first round of the elections, has endorsed Miss Le Pen, and would be prime minister in a Le Pen government.
As in the United States, French television spent more than an hour warming up for the event — interviewing political commentators and spokesmen for the candidates. The Macron spokesmen said their man stands for optimism vs. pessimism and progress vs. retreat. Miss Le Pen’s supporters spoke of saving France from the consequences of immigration and globalism. French media promoted this debate as a crucial moment in an election that represents a choice as sharp for France as the Trump-Clinton choice was for the United States.
The debate itself was a nasty exchange between two people who clearly despise each other. Mr. Macron, in particular, spoke condescendingly, constantly addressing his opponent as “Madame Le Pen,” in the tone of voice of a teacher correcting a thick student. He was constantly on the attack: “You are telling lies,” “You are telling huge lies,” “You are talking rot,” “You have no solutions to propose,” “You are unfit to lead,” “You are the high priestess of fear,” “Let me analyze the foolishness you have just been spouting,” “You are a menace to the institutions of France,” “What nourishes you and nourished your father is fear and lies.”
Miss Le Pen was not so consistently insulting but did not exactly hold back, accusing her opponent of being a lap dog: “Whoever wins this election, France will be run by a woman — either by me or by Mrs. Merkel,” “You are on your knees before Germany, Europe, business interests, the banks — you are the candidate perpetually on his knees,” “You are a child of the system and have the coldness of a banker.”
This was more an argument than a debate, with both candidates planting countless digs and jabs while the other spoke. They repeatedly interrupted and talked over each. Often the two moderators — who were scrupulously neutral and respectful — tried in vain to stop what had become a steady, jarring din of two people talking past each other.
If Miss Le Pen needed to land a knockout punch to win the election, she failed, but the differences between the two candidates could not have been clearer. They spent a lot of time on the economy, unemployment, social security, public debt, etc., with Miss Le Pen taking the populist, almost paternalist position, while Mr. Macron stood for deregulation and free markets. The National Front candidate emphasized the need for France to regain its sovereignty from the European Union and from international agreements, accusing Mr. Macron of promoting a dog-eat-dog capitalism, in which the strong devour the weak. He argued that by freeing employers from restrictive regulation he would promote growth and employment, and that France would be more prosperous as part of a rejuvenated Europe.
Miss Le Pen accused her opponent of never talking about Islamic terrorism. She said she would reestablish borders, expel all Muslim fundamentalists, close all Salafist mosques, strip certain dual citizens of French nationality and expel them, deport criminal foreigners who have served their sentences, and stop letting Saudi Arabia and Qatar fund Islamic centers. She repeatedly pointed out that Islamic organizations have supported Mr. Macron and that he has not repudiated their support despite harsh statements by members about Jews and homosexuals. (In an exchange that typical of the debate, Mr. Macron said he was pleased to hear a Le Pen speak in favor of Jews and homosexuals, since those are groups traditionally disdained by members of her family.) “We must eradicate the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism in France,” said Miss Le Pen, “and you will not do that because the Islamists support you. And that will be a terrible price for France to pay.”
Mr. Macron said that fighting terrorism would be his top priority, but that he would strengthen the arms of the state that fight it — police and intelligence services — rather than fight Muslims. In what will strike many French voters as a weak response, he reiterated his position that France is, at least in part, to blame for terrorism. He noted that young people — he did not say children of immigrants, but that is who he meant — have been born and reared in France and yet become terrorists. He said that this is because some are mentally ill but also because France has not succeeded in being a country in which everyone can find his place. Only by becoming such a society will France win the respect of its citizens. Miss Le Pen’s policies of insulting Muslims, he said, are setting Frenchmen against each other and could lead to civil war.
Miss Le Pen countered by pointing out that Mr. Macron visited Algeria, where he said that France committed crimes against humanity during the Algerian revolution. “Don’t you realize,” she asked, “that when young people hear this, they are encouraged to hate France to seek revenge? You are constantly compromising with radical Islam, and France will have to pay the price.”
Miss Le Pen insisted that France must be sovereign. It must leave the European Union or at least renegotiate the terms of membership. She noted that Mr. Macron and others had predicted catastrophe if Britain voted for Brexit, yet the British economy is doing fine. She accused her opponent of being the candidate who is most submissive to Europe. Mr. Macron replied that she was pushing a return to nationalism, which leads to war. “What you are proposing is an exit from history,” he said.
In foreign affairs, Mr. Macron accused Miss Le Pen of being a lackey of Vladimir Putin. Miss Le Pen said that France should be equidistant from the United States and Russia, and that there was no reason for a cold war with Russia. She argued that as the world becomes more nationalist, she will be better able to understand foreign affairs. She insisted on the advantages for France of complete freedom of action on the world stage, whereas Mr. Macron argued that France will have greater influence as part of a strong and unified Europe.
What was the effect of the debate? A snap poll taken immediately afterwards found that 64 percent of respondents found Mr. Macron’s performance more persuasive. Indeed, for the most part, Mr. Macron was smoother and more in command of policy details. Some voters may hold his contemptuous tone against him, but this debate will not put Miss Le Pen over the top.
Mr. Macron is likely to be the next president of France, but he is unlikely to solve the country’s economic problems, and he will certainly be unable to stop Islamic terror. In five year’s time, after the end of his first term, the chances of a nationalist government may be even better.