The fascination surrounding Marine Le Pen’s first-round presidential-election showing, perceptively described by Mario, is dominating the French press today. She’s on nearly every editorial page in the country, as this round-up in l’Express reports. But very few editorialists see her victory as a harbinger of some greater success. Instead, the significance of her third-place finish is seen in the humiliation not just of Nicolas Sarkozy, but also of his Socialist rival, François Hollande.
Hollande, the winner in the multi-candidate round, is in many ways the least significant of those running. He may well end up sitting in the Elysée, but he won’t be doing much, because his winning strategy so far — not to be Nicolas Sarkozy — won’t amount to much after the next round, on May 6. Besides, he’s the candidate only because France’s leading Socialist politician left his cell phone and his political career next to the bed in a Manhattan hotel room.
Hollande’s proposals are dull-gray and unimaginative, the boilerplate tax-the-rich-and-hire-the-poor nonsense embraced by every left-wing candidate everywhere as a stand-in for an actual idea. Everybody already knows that the last thing France needs is more government employees working their ten-minute weeks under union contracts. On the other hand, Le Pen’s “victory” is far less shocking than her father’s 2002 campaign, which unseated the Socialists under a Hollande-like Lionel Jospin and put the National Front into the final round against a flabbergasted but grateful Jacques Chirac.
Compared to those two — a boring limo socialist and a shrill xenophobe — Sarkozy’s campaign has excited genuine passion. People hate him. They despise him for his betrayal of a form of populism much more reflective of the French people. Sarkozy rose to power in 2007 by running against the political class — against the reviled énarques and the permanent corruption of the French ruling élite. After defeating those in his own party, including Chirac’s reptilian prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, knocking off the Socialist candidate that year was a cinch. The National Front was irrelevant in the 2007 presidential election because Sarko fought the populist fight for them.
But within months of defeating an exhausted and unpopular political class, Sarkozy became one of them — not by ditching an unfaithful wife and marrying a model. That made sense to everybody. The bling Sarkozy adopted was political bling. He gave even more cabinet positions to France’s bottomless supply of entrenched, fungal, ruling-class functionaries than even Chirac had done. He betrayed his angry constituency faster than you can say “no child left behind.” That mattered a lot this time around, because despite the news-chatter, the French are not yet vehemently anti-euro. But they are increasingly anti-establishment (which, given the crazy web of French social legislation, is the same as being anti-EU, but not always the same as being anti-government). Sarkozy lost yesterday for the same reason he’ll lose in the next round on May 6: He abandoned a politically popular point-of-view for one nobody wanted.
According to Le Figaro, Hollande took 35 départments that had voted last time around for Sarkozy. The paper also reports the disappointment of those on the left. But really, there was no bigger loser in the first round than Sarkozy — with the possible exception of Ségolène Royal, Hollande’s former cohabitationist. The pair had four children, but they said they felt marriage was far too bourgeois for such avant-garde souls as theirs. Of course there are limits even to non-conformity, so when it became known that François was having an affair with a journalist, Ségolène finally threw him out. It’s hard to argue against good taste, and she’d never have become president anyway. But if she’d just waited a little longer, she’d have become first roommate.