France Between a Rock and a Hard Place
The 2nd round of the French election may seem like an obvious choice. The contest is between the former economic minister and investment banker Macron who is the political equivalent of a Twinkie, all style and no substance, and Marine Le Pen who is a Nazi-apologizing, racist, sexist, Putin-wannabe authoritarian. Current polls show Macron winning an easy victory, which is a relief for those of us who like democracy and diversity. Yet Le Pen's loss will only be a pyrrhic victory, as Macron will advance the very same policies and leadership that led to the rise of a movement that, just a couple decades ago, was a tiny fringe movement.
Macron is possibly the prototypical liberal politician. He was born to a rich family in northern France, and he went to prestigious schools before becoming a top politico and investment banker. Yet it was his most recent job that has most politically defined him. As economic minister to President Hollande, he advanced the policies that put Hollande’s approval rating at 4%. The most significant of the policies, labor reforms that would make it easier to fire workers without just cause and undermine worker protections, was forced into law by attaching a vote of no confidence were so unpopular that mass protests bordering on revolution paralyzed the country for months. Hollande was so unpopular that he was the first French president since the second World War to voluntarily not run for reelection. When the candidate from Hollande's faction of the Socialist Party (who despite the name are perhaps the farthest thing from Socialist one could be) lost to a critic of the government, Macron bolted the party. So then why was Macron able to get the most votes in the first round?
Macron has been able to portray his movement as a movement of outsiders, talking about changing the status quo despite his history. He is able to do so for a few reasons. For starters he was never the political face of anything; he is a technocrat working behind the scenes and is known for being incredibly boring and dull. He is also an independent backed by the En Marche, the movement he founded, defined more by its lack of beliefs than anything else. Macron’s actual political beliefs are very fluid, sometimes defining himself as a leftist, sometimes as a socialist, sometimes as neither left nor right, and sometimes as a progressive. His campaign isn’t about anything beyond himself, and is highly lacking in policy given that he released his platform only 2 months before the first round. However what he proposes is simply a continuation of his previous work, reducing public protections, cutting the social safety net, increasing defense spending, and continuing the state of emergency that gives the government almost unlimited power; essentially everything that came before.
In comparison his rival, Le Pen has built her movement off of softening the image of her party and exploiting discontent of working voters. The 2nd round looks to be a similar contest to that of the American election, except Le Pen seems to really be losing. However the political situation that facilitated the rise of Le Pen and Trump will only intensify under Macron. In the next election, Le Pen and her type will come back, only stronger. Defeating Le Pen in this election — specifically Macron defeating her — only sows the seeds of her eventual victory. To be clear, I do not advocate voting for Le Pen. What I am saying is that voting for Macron will not defeat fascism. Rather, a movement against fascism and the status quo is ultimately necessary. Voting for Macron is necessary at the moment, especially given the state of emergency that would give her dictatorial powers. But as I said before, the continuation of the status quo would sow the seeds of Le Pen’s ultimate ascension to power, leaving the French people between a rock and a hard place.
Photo credit Pablo Tupin-Noriega, Creative Commons