Politics & Policy

Le Pen Fever

The European streets.

“The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable,’” wrote George Orwell in 1946. It was true then and it’s true now. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French ultra-nationalist who came in second last week in the French elections, to the joy of everybody who thinks the French should shut the hell up, may be a racist isolationist. He may think the Holocaust was a “little detail” of World War II (indeed, from a certain French perspective it was just outsourcing of much-needed work to their German neighbors). But none of this makes him a fascist in the sense that fascism means something beyond “something not desirable.”

Now, I don’t like Le Pen. Never have. In fact, if fascists are simply undesirable political people in the Orwell tradition, than he is most definitely a fascist in my book. Then again, by that standard, so are Jesse Jackson, Alec Baldwin, Rosie O’Donnell, Crown Prince Abdullah, Susan Sarandon, Carson Daly, Aaron Sorkin, Margaret Cho, Jar-Jar Binks, and the duck from the AFLAC commercials, just to name a few.

But the truth is Le Pen never scared or outraged me in the way he does people who water their ferns three times a day do. (Okay, I guess conscientious fern-watering doesn’t make you a liberal any more than being nasty makes you a fascist, so if it helps, imagine the ferns resting on copies of Mother Jones).

But, you know, there is something about the guy I kind of like. I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s not his hair. Or even his old-world way of talking…it’s…oh, wait, I know what it is: He makes the fern-waterers water their plants from the inside out.

“Saying democracy itself is in peril, leaders across the French political spectrum today launched an emergency effort to prevent the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen from turning his second-place finish Sunday into a successful run for the French presidency….” is how the Washington Post’s Keith Richburg began a dispatch on the disarray in France.

Everyone take a moment to cackle over how these people were so smug about the Florida recount.

Now, I am not a well-read student of Affaires Européennes, Europäische Angelegenheiten, or the stuff that goes on over there, but it seems to me this whole thing is as bogus as the Maginot Line. The only way “democracy itself” would be in any greater peril is if last Sunday’s election had been seen as a successful example for us to follow (See David Schaeffer’s “Direct Dangers“). If that had happened — heaven forbid — it would have become a little more likely that the rest of the world might adopt France’s absurd political system. Because the fact is that the French built their electoral system the way they build their cars — Citroen doesn’t mean lemon in English for nothing, after all.

Charles De Gaulle famously asked, “How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?” No one has answered that question satisfactorily, but it’s pretty obvious that running 16 candidates, like they did this time, isn’t the right way to go. Not one of these jokers — the “winners” included — got over 20% of the vote. According to The Economist, in order to get on the ballot, candidates needed the support of at least 500 elected officials in at least 30 “departments” (I assume that’s a total of 500, rather than a requirement that each candidate be endorsed by at least 15,000 elected officials). This year, that meant 16 people qualified to be on the ballot, including several admitted Trotskyists. Olivier Besancenot, the famed “Trotyskite postman” being my personal favorite.

Now, I should note that when I say Trotskyist, I mean Trotskyist. I don’t mean — a la Orwell’s fascism — that they were just plain “undesirable” lefties from my troglodytic transatlantic perspective. Because, you see, there were other flavors of Communist in the race. There was Robert Hue, who The Economist claims preached a “wishy-washy” form of Communism (when the Tory Economist calls any form of Communism “wishy-washy” you know they’re having a hard time keeping all of them straight). Noel Mamere was the leading Green candidate and Christiane Taubira, the only black in the race, ran for “diversity.” And, oh yeah, there was also the Socialist, Lionel Jospin, who had to quit politics because he lost to Le Pen.

In other words, France is still a menagerie of lefty jackassery. Le Pen’s strong showing just increased the biodiversity a bit. “It’s not me who has become extreme right. It’s the whole of society which has become extreme left,” Le Pen told the British magazine The Spectator. This made a big splash in Europe for some reason but, frankly, I’m at a total loss to see what’s so controversial about it.

This does raise one of the more annoying aspects of Le Pen fever. The French think Le Pen is a “new Hitler” because he’s allegedly anti-Semitic and obviously anti-immigrant (though this is a bit redundant since most of the immigrants he hates are Semites too, just not Jewish ones). But the cheese-eating surrender monkeys have, over the years, permitted avowed Stalinists to hold positions of power with barely a word of protest. For example, Maurice Thorez, the old head of the French Communist Party — the largest in Europe — was cavalier about the fact that his Stalinism would require the murder of thousands of people should he ever come to power. His party often received 25 percent of the vote.

Another, more serious, problem with Le Pen fever is that it is concealing French anti-Semitism, not exposing it. Much of the analysis in America holds that Le Pen’s surprise showing puts a face to the synagogue-burning hysteria in France. But this isn’t true. Le Pen may be anti-Semitic, but his supporters haven’t been burning synagogues or making apologies for those who do. Indeed, Le Pen has largely moved away from anti-Semitism because French Jews seem, well, French. While North African Arabs seem like, well, North African Arabs. And, besides, France’s right-wing Jews — though certainly a tiny majority — are just as anti-immigration as he is.

The people attacking Jews for the last few months — or years — have for the most part been Arabs and North Africans who Le Pen hates and who hate Le Pen. The people making excuses for these attacks on Jews in France and, let’s face it, anywhere else in the world, inhabit the highest levels of the liberal-socialist French — and European — establishment. I would bet that if you compared the attitudes of first-time Le Pen voters — the folks who wanted to send a message about crime and immigration — to the folks who voted for the Marxist Mailman, you’d fine a lot more anti-Semitism among the followers of postal Communism than you would among the Le Penners.

I do not believe that being anti-Israel automatically means you’re an anti-Semite and I think many pro-Israel Jews make a mistake by using the concepts interchangeably. But it is becoming hard to dispute that Europe’s anti-Israel obsession has become so intense that it is making establishment Europe operationally anti-Semitic.

I don’t want to discount the historic — and seemingly permanent — problem of European anti-Semitism. But the current wave of anti-Jewish violence and vitriol which, again, has almost nothing to do with Le Pen, doesn’t come from traditional bigotry as Charles Krauthammer suggests today. Krauthammer — whom I revere — thinks Europe’s resurgent anti-Semitism has to do with the fact that Jews are standing up for themselves. “What is intolerable is Jewish assertiveness,” Krauthammer writes of the European attitude, “the Jewish refusal to accept victimhood. And nothing so embodies that as the Jewish state.”

I think this has it backward. In Europe these days, anti-Semitism doesn’t drive anti-Israeli bias, anti-Israeli bias feeds anti-Semitism. And what drives hatred of Israel more than anything else?

Tune in Monday to find out.


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