By the end of the day, journalists will at last be able to stop writing the same column about “the most unpredictable election ever” and the awful choices France confronts. Voting has begun. The first exit polls will be published when polling stations close at 8 p.m. They’re usually fairly accurate. The final result will be in at about midnight. There’s one thing we needn’t worry about: I’m told by people who’ve long monitored these polls that they’re fraud-proof. I believe it.
Anne-Elizabeth Moutet published this (excellent) piece for CapX yesterday about why this election is so hard to predict. She lamented on Facebook that the piece “was longer in coming out than a newborn auroch.” How I sympathize: My own pre-election piece wasn’t even ready before the election. I did finish the one about Turkey’s referendum (I’ll post the link when it’s up). But on this one, I failed to get the job done. Pretty rare for me. It happens, but I wish it hadn’t.
So today, I’ll do something else I don’t usually do. I’m just going to post part of that unfinished article here. Some of you have been puzzled by my reaction to Marine Le Pen and have asked me why I dread the prospect of her success. At least in this, you’ll have my answer.
By tonight, I pray, my answer — and this whole discussion — will be completely irrelevant.
THE NEW RISING STARS
Let’s begin in America. Steve Bannon is said greatly to admire the Le Pen family and France’s National Front. Breitbart has announced its plans to expand to France; Bannon has made his support for Le Pen clear, even going so far as to declare France “the place to be,” with “its young entrepreneurs, women of the Le Pen family.” He described Marine Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen—also a senior National Front figure—as “the new rising star.” Marion Maréchal-Le Pen has reported, on Twitter, that Bannon offered her concrete political support: “I answer yes,” she wrote, “to the invitation of Stephen Bannon, CEO of the Trump presidential campaign, to work together.” It is not clear what prompted her to say this.
Many Americans are excited by the idea of a Le Pen presidency in France. And why wouldn’t they be? They’ve been told the Le Pens are an entrepreneurial family of rising stars. Marine and Marion, according to Breitbart, are “a clear voice of courage and common sense in a country and continent in need of both.”
Marine Le Pen has made several visits to the United States in recent years to court American conservatives. She has focused on prominent American Jews in her campaign to “de-demonize” the National Front. Then, two weeks ago, she managed in a flagrant moment of (surely unconscious) compulsion to re-demonize the party wholesale.
The details of this story, if better known, might give Americans pause. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what Bannon, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged Bannon, envies. Look at this tangle of thorns.
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THE VEL D’HIV
Had I time to recount this story properly, I would begin with the fall of France in 1940, de Gaulle’s exile in London, and the establishment of the Vichy government. But I don’t. Still, it is important to understand that while half of France was occupied, and the Vichy government nominally ruled the whole country, Paris was run by the same French administration that had been in place before the occupation.
The Vélodrome d’Hiver, or Winter Velodrome — the Vel d’Hiv — was an indoor stadium on the rue Nélaton near the Eiffel Tower. On July 16, 1942, 4,500 French police and gendarmes, acting on the orders of the French administration, began carrying out plans to arrest 30,000 foreign adult Jews. This operation was given the codename “Spring Breeze.”
The arrests began at 4:00 a.m., but the initial results were disappointing. Many of the Jews on the list for detention, having been warned by the Resistance or hidden by neighbors, could not be found. The police, therefore, decided to detain 4,000 Jewish children instead. The Nazis had not asked for these children. Most had been born in France. The order was given by Maréchal Pétain’s minister, Pierre Laval. It was a wholly French innovation.
Some families were sent to internment camps near Paris, where the children, mostly aged between two and twelve, were separated from their families by the French police, drenched in water, and bludgeoned. Their parents were sent directly to Auschwitz.
Others were taken to the Vel d’Hiv. The few lavatories there were sealed, lest children escape through the windows. The children were left, alone, for five days in the unbearable heat, with only the scarce rations of food and water brought to them by the Quakers and the Red Cross.
From there, they were sent to the internment camps of Drancy, Beaune-la-Rolande and Pithiviers. Then in August, the children were sent, alone — on French rail cars, by the French government — to Auschwitz. The youngest child sent to Auschwitz, under Laval’s orders, was only 18 months old. Laval, according to the historian Julian Jackson, told an American diplomat that he was “happy” to get rid of them.
Not one returned. All were exterminated.
There is no dispute about this. It is as well-documented a historical event as exists, confirmed by the records of the Préfecture de Police, countless eyewitnesses, and in particular, by the past four decades of historical research, which have comprehensively documented the eager collaboration of the wartime French government. Police Chief René Bousquet, who organized the roundup, impressed his German counterparts with his energy. France “did not have a knife at its throat,” writes the historian Philippe Burrin of these events in his authoritative history, La France à l’Heure Allemande. “Without the help of the [French] police, the SS was paralyzed.” The American historian Robert Paxton notes that France was the only country in Western Europe to use its own police force to round up Jews in territory that was not occupied by the Germans.
Everyone in France knew it then. Everyone in France knows it now. A block from my apartment there is a lycée, a high school. I walk past it every day. The teenagers with backpacks, in their jeans and short skirts, are like teenagers everywhere. They flirt, they giggle, they gossip; they sneak cigarettes before class on the street outside the doors of the school.
There is a plaque on the wall of the school, one with the words written on so many walls in this city. It draws my eye whenever I walk past. It says:
Arrêté par la police du gouvernement de Vichy, complice de l’occupant Nazi, plus de 11,000 enfants furent déportés de France de 1942 à 1944 et assassinés à Auschwitz parce que nés Juifs. Plus de 500 enfants vivaient dans le 4ème arrondissement, parmi eux les élèves de cette école. Ne les oublions jamais.
My translation: “Arrested by the police of the Vichy government, accomplices of the Nazi occupiers, more than 11,000 children were deported from France between 1942 and 1944 and assassinated at Auschwitz, because they were born Jews. More than 500 children lived in the 4th district, among them pupils of this school. Never forget them.”
A few blocks further, there’s a playground with a list of the names of the 87 children (les tout-petits) from the 3rd arrondissement. They weren’t yet old enough to go to school before they were sent to the camps. Most were exterminated in Auschwitz and Birkenau. Several thousand perished in the German death camps; some thousand more were executed in France. I always look at the children, playing, and ask myself what we all ask ourselves: What would cause ordinary men and women, and they were ordinary men and women, to starve, bludgeon, gas, and exterminate children? Look at your own children, any child, and ask yourself: Could you ever imagine that the right thing to do? Of course not. Humans aren’t capable of thinking such a thing. It goes against the most fundamental, the most primitive instincts we have. But apparently, that’s not true. We are capable of it. It’s unsurprising that so many don’t want to believe it. But it is the truth, and to deny this is to kill them twice.
Until 1995, it had been Gaullist doctrine to deny French responsibility for the roundup, this on the grounds that the Vichy Regime itself was illegitimate. The argument was preposterous. The Vichy government initially enjoyed wide support; its bureaucrats and officials came from the pre-war bureaucracy. “To isolate Vichy from the French population,” one of the leading French historians of the period, Henry Rousso, remarked, “doesn’t hold up for one second. You only have to look at the newsreels of the crowds applauding Pétain.” But Vichy was, more importantly, only nominally responsible for the Vel d’Hiv roundup. The authorities in Paris took their orders directly from the Gestapo.
For years, this was too unbearable to confront, and so France did not confront it.
Shortly after his election in 1995, however, President Jacques Chirac delivered a speech at the site of the Vel d’Hiv. (It had since been destroyed. Confronted or not, they knew.) He recognized, on behalf of the nation, French culpability. “These black hours,” he said,
will stain our history for ever and are an insult to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal madness of the occupant was assisted (secondée — facilitated, encouraged) by the French, by the French state. Fifty-three years ago, on 16 July 1942, 4,500 policemen and gendarmes, French, acting under the authority of commanding officers, obeyed the demands of the Nazis. That day, in the capital and the Paris region, nearly 10,000 Jewish men, women and children were arrested at home, in the early hours of the morning, and assembled at police stations … France, home of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, land of welcome and asylum, France committed that day the irreparable. Breaking its word, it delivered those it protected to their executioners.
Chirac was widely applauded for his remarks, even by the Gaullist establishment. They were, everyone knew, long overdue.
But Jean-Marie Le Pen—Marine’s father, then president of the National Front—found them offensive. Chirac, he sneered, had just “paid his electoral debt” to the Jews.
Perhaps the most direct progenitor of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front was Action Française, the militant street league founded in opposition to the defense of Alfred Dreyfus. Its principal ideologist was the proto-fascist, anti-Protestant, and morbidly anti-Semitic Charles Maurras, whom Steve Bannon is said particularly to admire. Whether this is true, I don’t know; I doubt it; it seems too vividly grotesque to be true.
Maurras was a monarchist, a counter-revolutionary (contra the French Revolution, that is), against parliamentarism, an anti-internationalist, and one of the foundational theorists of integral nationalism—an ideology embodied by his slogan, “a true nationalist places his country above everything.” Maurras thus endorsed Colonel Henry’s forgery on the grounds that defending Dreyfus would weaken the French army and justice system; Dreyfus, he held, must be sacrificed to the state’s interests. He himself was an agnostic, but sought on like grounds to restore Roman Catholicism as the state religion. Action Française supported the Vichy Regime and Pétain. After the war, Maurras was arrested as a collaborator. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Meanwhile, in 1928, Jean-Marie Le Pen was born. His father was a fisherman in a small seaside village in Brittany. Orphaned in adolescence when his father’s boat was blown up by a mine, he was raised a ward of the state. He entered the faculty of law in Paris, in 1944, and began selling Action Française’s newspapers in the street. He was repeatedly convicted of assault.
He later enlisted as a paratrooper, arriving in Indochina only after the defeat at Dien Bien Phu, then at Suez after the cease-fire. He returned to France to begin his political career, joining the populist leader Pierre Poujade’s Union de Défense des Commerçants et Artisans — the Union for the Defense of Shopkeepers and Craftsmen. Poujad and his eponymous movement were also known for anti-parliamentarism (Poujade called the National Assembly “the biggest brothel in Paris” and the deputies a “pile of rubbish” and “pederasts”), their anti-intellectualism, their anti-Semitism, and their support for French Algeria.
After becoming, in 1956, the youngest elected Member of Parliament, Le Pen re-enlisted to serve in Algeria. He led a military intelligence unit that was later accused of electrocution, water torture, beatings, and rape. Le Pen sued the historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, and the Socialist former prime minister Michel Rocard for making these claims. He lost.
In 1972, Le Pen co-founded the National Front. The party emerged against the background of the Algerian War, beginning its life as a marginal collection of Vichy apologists and nostalgists for French Algeria. Nazi collaborators were prominent in its early leadership, including members of the French SS. Many viewed the abandonment of Algeria by Charles de Gaulle as treason. Notably, Le Pen insisted upon the rehabilitation of the reputation of the Nazi collaborators. “Was General de Gaulle,” he had asked during the 1965 presidential campaign, “more brave than Marshal Pétain in the occupied zone? This isn’t sure. It was much easier to resist in London than to resist in France.”
He averred to the editor of the Front’s mouthpiece, Rivarol, that he had never considered Pétain a traitor. “I believe we were very severe with him at the Liberation … I never considered those who kept their esteem for the Marshal to be bad Frenchmen, or infréquentables [people you wouldn’t want to mix with].” The German occupation, he told Rivarol, was “not particularly inhuman.” By the end of the 1980s, Holocaust denial was an integral part of the Front’s ideology.
There is scant evidence that Le Pen believed he could become, or intended to be, a national figure. He was popular in the south of France. His loyalists admired him for his refusal to abandon the men who had sacrificed themselves in the Algerian War. I’ve met some of them, and to my surprise found them sympathetic. It is true that loyalty is a meaningful quality, and I understood why they valued his.
Le Pen enjoyed his dominion over his party. He enjoyed his reputation as the Devil of the Republic among his opponents, whom he genuinely loathed, and the adoration of his supporters, which he genuinely loved. If seeking an American analogy, you might think of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, or perhaps of Lew Rockwell. Now imagine that Lew Rockwell had three daughters, one of whom had a real gift for national politics—as well as an inexpressible lust for power. Hold that thought.
BRUTUS AND THE DETAIL
In the 1974 presidential election Le Pen won 0.75 percent of the vote. No one—certainly including him—expected him ever to surpass this achievement. But when France’s so-called glorious thirty postwar years came to an end, and as unemployment began to rise in the 1980s, the French began casting protest votes, really, for the National Front. They did so in large measure as a gesture of contempt for the political establishment.
In 2002, to the nation’s astonishment and horror, this phenomenon launched Le Pen all the way to the second round of the presidential election. The Left and the Right, stunned, united in panic to stop him. It worked. He received only 18 percent of the final vote. This—or so everyone believed—at last showed the limits of fascist nostalgia as a viable political strategy in France.
But there was a twist. Of course there was. In 1960, Jean-Marie Le Pen had married Pierrette Lalanne. Their union resulted in three daughters. After a quarter of a century of marriage, Pierrette walked out on them all, abandoning her daughters to set up home with a journalist. (She did not speak to Marine, we now know, for fifteen years.) Her husband refused to pay her alimony, suggesting instead that Pierette earn her living as a maid. She responded by posing for the French edition of Playboy in a maid’s outfit.
Enter Bruno Mégret. In 1985, Mégret joined the National Front, at first as Le Pen’s protégé. But the electorate’s growing tendency to vote for the Front gave rise in Mégret to a forbidden thought: The movement might have real potential as a national party were it not for the Old Man and his ludicrous, embarrassing, insistent defense of politically poisonous positions.
In 1987, journalist Olivier Mazerolle—remember that name—interviewed the elder Le Pen and asked his views about the revisionist theses of Robert Faurisson, the Franco-British Holocaust denier who had claimed, among other things, that Anne Frank’s diary was a forgery. Faurisson had been fined by a French court in 1983 for declaring that “Hitler never ordered nor permitted that anyone be killed by reason of his race or religion.” Le Pen, as was his wont, shot off his mouth. “The gas chambers,” he said, were “a detail of history.” The video below doesn’t show this episode, but rather one of the many times he later repeated the comment; I couldn’t find a subtitled version of the original.
His associates considered this comment—for which Le Pen, too, was fined—the greatest political error of his life. The party’s slow insinuation into mainstream political life reversed itself.
Mégret’s charisma, and his popularity within the party, won him support against his rival for Le Pen père’s affection, Bruno Gollnisch, whom the Old Man had made the party’s vice-president and general secretary. In 1998, Le Pen physically assaulted Annette Peulvast-Bergeal, a socialist politician, for which he was prosecuted and convicted. He was suspended from the European Parliament (he had long ceased to win his bids to sit in the National Assembly), and banned from seeking office for a year.
Inspired by accusations that Le Pen was too old and too gaga to lead a vigorous political movement, Mégret saw his chances and he took them; he attempted to stage a coup, mounting an effort to take over the National Front entirely. He failed. So Mégret—or Brutus, as Le Pen called him—defected. He started his own party, the Mouvement National Républicain. Another Frontiste, Philippe Olivier, defected along with him, becoming Mégret’s strategist. The eldest of the Le Pen daughters, Marie-Caroline, was Olivier’s lover.
She defected with Olivier.
Her father disowned her.
The elder Le Pen was, in the end, indeed too old and too gaga to lead a vigorous political movement. But the youngest of his daughters, Marine, was not. To her surprise, no doubt, and certainly to her father’s, she discovered in herself a real lust for power — national power, which she could imagine herself obtaining. Through nepotism, she took over the party. Through ambition, she saw a clear path. She embarked on a campaign to “de-demonize” the National Front, which in practice meant distancing it from her lunatic Pop. Like Mégret, she appreciated that there was, in France, a market for a modern Eurosceptic and populist party, one that targeted disaffected youth and lower-class voters who had many complaints, to be sure, but no interest in getting together with their war buddies and reminiscing about Algeria.
Thus began her drive to “de-demonize” the party. She sought to transform the Front from her a cult of personality centered around her father to a serious national political movement. In the vein of Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders, she offered voters a mix of economic protectionism, imprecations against Brussels bureaucrats, and a non-stop diet of railing against foreigners. The party advocated abandoning the principle of jus soli, or birthright citizenship, in favor of jus sanguinis–citizenship by virtue of “French blood.” She revised the party’s economic doctrines: Once the Front had been strictly liberal—in the traditional, economic sense; now it made promises to the working class of such lavish and economically illiterate grandiosity that even socialists would blush. She promised to raise the minimum wage, lower the retirement age, and pay for it all, somehow, by jettisoning the Euro and getting rid of the immigrants. The party became popular in regions plagued by deindustrialization and high unemployment. Its chief strategist, Florian Philippot, is actually a convert from the Eurosceptic left; he is said to be the author of the party’s focus on leaving Europe and expanding the welfare state.
But — and this was key — Marine took pains to expel or conceal the party’s most embarrassing elements. Anti-Semites and the Holocaust deniers, she insisted, had no place in the new, de-demonized National Front. As much recent reporting suggests, though, she was not as successful in expelling them as had been thought. (That’s all I could find in English; it’s much more detailed — and worse — in French.)
She did work assiduously to shed the party’s Jew-hating image — which was not just its image, but reality; her father’s well-known attitudes toward Jews were shared by a significant percentage of the party’s core supporters. Changing that image was an absolute electoral necessity: Anti-Semitism has declined markedly in France over the past half-century; it now resembles American levels, that’s to say, polls show that significant anti-Semitic attitudes are held by no more than 20 percent of the population, probably less; the numbers seem to come out in the teens or low-teens, in both countries. Among the true anti-Semites, though, a significant number support the National Front, which is their natural home. But no overt anti-Semite could win a French national election.
The party has not, at its grassroots, changed all that much. It still attracts the anti-Semites and the conspiracy theorists. But Marine’s innovation, and it was successful, was to minimize public expressions of anti-Semitism and replace them with implacable hostility to Muslims.
Marine, unlike her father, does not come across as an anti-Semite. I have friends who insist she’s not one at all: She has Jewish friends, they point out. She supports the State of Israel, which her father never did. French Jews have rejected her overtures, though, and so have Israelis: The party’s history, and the company she keeps, make it radioactive to them. Still, Marine had to be accepted by Jews, somewhere; this was the key to making the Front respectable and to convincing other parties it might be seen as respectable to work with her. Hence her charm offensive in America. (My friend Arun Kapil has an interesting discussion of her effort to court American Jews and conservatives, here.)
Now, this whole business with the Front and the Jews is hardly the only reservation a sensible person might have about her and her party. There’s her economic program, of course. But worst of all, Marine and her entourage are among the most enthusiastic supporters of Vladimir Putin in Europe. Or more accurately, Putin is among her most enthusiastic supporters; her party’s finances have been sustained by loans from Russian banks. She has repaid the loyalty, for example, by praising the results of the Crimean referendum. Her main diplomatic adviser, Aymeric Chauprade, embraces Putin as “a model for all those who want a multipolar world … where Europeans are liberated from American domination and consequently of the European Union which is itself the product of this imperialism.” (In 2011, Chauprade was fired from the French war college for intimating that 9/11 was an inside job, and here is her father, by the way, insinuating the same thing. I’m sorry I couldn’t find a subtitled version.)
Still, by 2014, her strategy had begun to pay off. The party was represented throughout France; it had won mayoralties, seats in the National Assembly, and, for the first time, the Senate. In local elections that year, the National Front made significant gains.
ENTER OEDIPUS, KARAMAZOV, THE BORGIAS, ATREUS, AND KING LEAR
Only great literature — and Sigmund Freud — have the power to explain what happened next.
Marine’s success proved too much for her father to bear. Christiane Chombeau, in her 2007 book Le Pen, Father and Daughter, reports that Marine said to him, “Whatever happens, you are my father. I love you and I will never hurt you, but I need to believe in what I do. I want to be myself.” But so jealous of his daughter did Le Pen prove that every time the National Front earned a victory — every single time — he toddled out to the balcony, opened up his yap, and reminded all of France why the National Front had been demonized in the first place.
At first, bizarrely, Marine continued not only to defend him, but to live in his home, an opulent mansion in a Paris suburb, built by Napoleon III for his chief of staff. Even more weirdly, her mother, too, continues to this day to live on the property, which Le Pen père inherited — along with a substantial fortune — from the monarchist son of the cement industrialist Leon Lambert. Reportedly, Marine only stormed out of his home, at last, at the age of 47, when her father’s Dobermans dramatically devoured her cat.
The party’s surprise success in French local elections, without him, was visibly just unbearable to her father. Within a month, he again announced that the gas chambers were a detail of history, then, seriatim, again defended Pétain, called for an alliance between France and Russia to preserve the white world, and complained that France was ruled by immigrants — by whom, he specified, he meant the Spanish-born Prime Minister. “Valls has been French for 30 years. I’ve been French for 1,000 years. Has this immigrant really changed?”
Marine responded by trying to remove her father as the party’s candidate, in elections later that year, in the region of the south that includes Marseilles and the French Riviera, her father’s old stomping grounds (and the only grounds that truly mattered to him). “I get the feeling,” she said, “that he can’t stand the fact that the National Front continues to exist when he no longer heads it.” It took no laser-light of insight to see this.
I am not sure of the dates or the sequence in which her father said the following things, I must double-check; but he responded by suggesting the Ebola virus might take care of the African immigrant problem “in three months,” sharing his enlightened views on the inequality of races, lamenting the excessively high representation of minorities on the French soccer team, and declaring that the Nazi occupation of France was “not particularly inhumane.”
Marine replied that she “deeply disagreed” with her “deliberately provocative” father.
Her father replied that he “never regretted” saying the Holocaust gas chambers were relatively insignificant.
Marine suspended her own 86-year-old father from the from the party he founded.
Her father disowned her.
BY ANY MEANS POSSIBLE
Le Pen vowed to attack his daughter by any means possible, suggesting their war was only just beginning. It would be “scandalous,” he said, if his daughter were to become head of state. “I’m ashamed that the president of the Front National bears my name. I hope she gets rid of it as fast as possible.” He proposed she do so by marrying her adviser Florian Philippot (who had recently been outed as gay by a gossip rag).
He said he had no intention of retiring from politics, as his daughter wished; he was thinking only of how to attack. When asked what he made of Marine’s insistence that he had been deliberately provocative, he replied that it was a lie, a plot. He accused Marine of a “betrayal of her father.” This, he said, would never be accepted by the true members of the party, for whom loyalty was all. Said Le Pen: “She is sawing off the branch on which she sits with these actions, which even revolt her enemies.” (“Sawing off the branch on which she sits?” Good Lord. Don’t tell me Freud is dead.)
Only one of Le Pen’s daughters — Yann — has escaped his wrath. Only she visited him in the hospital when he was rushed to the emergency wing with coronary artery blockage complicated by a pulmonary condition. And it is Yann’s daughter, Jean-Marie’s granddaughter Marion Marechal-Le Pen, whom Bannon has called the party’s “new rising star.”
Marine was worse, her father said, than her political opponents, because “those adversaries fight you to your face. She is stabbing me in the back.” Her betrayal was all the more indecent, he said, because she would be nothing without him: He had facilitated her career. He stood outside the party headquarters and vowed “they will have to kill me” to silence him. “You should know” he later told AFP, “that if my corpse is found, I won’t have committed suicide.”
Then a French court ruled, to his delight, that he would be allowed to maintain his title as honorary chairman of the party. When the French singer Patrick Bruel, who is Jewish, criticized the Front on the obvious grounds, Le Pen, then 88, celebrated the court’s verdict by posting a video on the party’s website suggesting of Bruel that “next time we will put him in an oven.”
In 2015, at the National Front’s annual May Day rally, Marine — as tradition dictated — laid a wreath before the statue of Joan of Arc. To her astonishment, Jean-Marie, who had been conspicuously uninvited, emerged from nowhere, toddled toward the statue, and cried out to Joan of Arc for help. When Marine tried to take the stage to speak, he marched before the platform, arms outstretched, beaming dementedly, to cheers from the crowd. Marine, stunned, stood silent and glaring.
Marine later said—stating the obvious, to say the least—“I think that was a malicious act. I think it was an act of contempt towards me.”
A SLENDER HOPE
Marine’s odds were always long. Her ceiling, pollsters say, is no more than 30 percent. Of course, that’s what they said about Donald Trump, too. But the French electoral system really is different. She is toxic to the rest of the electorate. When last she ran, in 2012, she only took 18 percent of the vote. She will need to triple that, almost, to win an outright majority today. Even assuming the polls aren’t just off, but wildly off — even assuming she’s able to win as many votes in the first round as Charles de Gaulle — she still can’t win, because the rest of the electorate will unite to vote against her in the runoff. Or so it was assumed.
Before last week, most polls showed her and Emmanuel Macron winning the first round, taking 25 and 24 percent of the votes, respectively. They then showed Macron resoundingly beating her, with 62 percent of the vote, in the finals.
But there was a but. Of course there was. She had one hope: Indecision and abstention. The polls suggest that millions of voters remain undecided, and almost half said they could change their minds. This was the highest rate of indecision France had ever seen at this point in an election. The electorate seems to hate all of the main candidates. Perhaps, pollsters wondered, this could lead to unusually high rates of abstention in the final round. Some groups are more likely to abstain than others: the young, ethnic minorities, and the unemployed. These groups would usually vote left, but might abstain instead of voting for Macron. If the left stayed home in large numbers, Le Pen could benefit.
BACK TO THE VEL D’HIV
In this context, at last, perhaps you’ll see what just transpired here and why I think this woman’s a lunatic. There were two weeks to go before the first round. Marine Le Pen was not on the verge of victory, but she was on the verge, astonishingly, of an outside chance. Then on Sunday, the ninth of April — the eve of Passover, 5777 — she found herself on the LCI television channel’s weekly show. It had been a chaotic day. The moderator of the show — you remember his name — was Olivier Mazerolle. The fatigue of the campaign was obvious in her eyes. Mazerolle tossed her an easy question (or he broadsided her, depending on your perspective). “Was Jacques Chirac wrong,” he asked, “to make his speech about the Vél d’Hiv?”
Now, it should have been a reflex, for a de-demonized Le Pen. The right answer, the only answer in France, for more than twenty years, has been: “Of course he wasn’t wrong, it is a matter of great pride that we are a France that squarely confronts its past.” In fact, this generation in France really has no idea there has ever been any other answer.
But the Devil got her tongue.
Instead: “I don’t think France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” she said, as viewers’ jaws fell agape throughout France and its territories. “I consider that France and the Republic were based in London during the occupation. The Vichy regime was not France. I think that generally speaking, if there are people responsible, it’s those who were in power at the time. It’s not France.”
She tried to find firmer footing: France had “taught our children that they have all the reasons to criticize and to only see, perhaps, the darkest aspects of our history,” she added. “So, I want them to be proud of being French again.”
She realized, almost immediately, what she had done, quickly saying that this in no way exonerated those who participated in “the vile roundup of Vel d’Hiv and all the atrocities committed during that period.” But it was too late. The program had barely ended when a press release went out from her campaign headquarters to clarify her position. This is rare for the National Front, which usually holds there is no reason, a posteriori, to issue a communiqué explaining the president’s speech; their philosophy — usually — is that she means what she said and she said what she meant, and their leader is faithful, one hundred percent. The very fact of the press release indicated the recognition of an error, a grave misstep. By Monday morning, she was expressing regret. “If Olivier Mazerolle hadn’t asked me the question,” she said, “you can well imagine I wouldn’t have spoken of it.” (That sentence has two meanings. I’ll let you think about them.)
Her entourage was every bit as aware that the Devil had possessed her as they were the first time Mazerolle had entrapped him. Florian Philippot quickly issued a statement on her behalf, insisting that her posture was “Gaullist.” And indeed it was, though few Frenchmen of this generation are even aware that de Gaulle held the same view. (What’s more, de Gaulle had excellent reason to believe he would have acquitted himself as honorably in the war as de Gaulle. He was de Gaulle.)
Her enemies pounced. “By denying the responsibility of the French State for the Vel d’Hiv, Marine Le Pen joins her father on the bench of indignity and denial,” wrote the Républicain party president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte region, Christian Estrosi.
“Some have forgotten that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen,” said her rival, Emmanuel Macron.
Well, they remember now. No matter how she spins this, voters who until now may have chosen to sit out the elections out were given a solid reason to vote. And those who do vote for her can’t pretend they didn’t know what they’re doing.
Years of effort — hers, and so many others — to de-demonize her party, derailed. A poll by Odoxa for Le Parisien last month found that 98 percent of National Front sympathisers had a positive image of Marine Le Pen. Only 28 percent had a positive image of her father, and 87 percent of the party’s sympathisers felt it was high time her father withdrew from political life altogether. So why, when it mattered most, did Marine become her father’s ventriloquist?
The answer is both complex and simple. The simple answer: She and her family are nuts.
But for the complex answer, Freud — and only Freud — will do. Her father is the embodiment of the narcissistic perversion, as described by the psychoanalyst Paul-Claude Récamier. That’s a cliché with the force of the obvious. The narcissist, intolerably damaged in his youth, manipulates and imprisons his entourage — exerts on them constant violence — to escape his own internal torment. He is the center of the world, the law itself; he is not to be transgressed. Those who love him are but the extension of his own glory; if they leave, they deserve to be destroyed. He attracts and creates need, he undermines and weakens those who love him; lacking love, he humiliates; he encloses and fascinates, all the while posing as a victim.
And worse, he passes on his disorder.
The astonishing aspect of Marine’s gaffe extraordinaire is the psychological compulsion behind it. No one but Freud could even begin to offer an insight into her decision to say that, to say it now — precisely as she had, at long last, a small — but real! — chance of achieving the ultimate prize! Was it just a slip of the tongue? You’d have to be utterly psychologically naive to believe that. Was she shoring up the anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying vote? She had it already. Where else were they going to go?
After so many years, after working so assiduously, so strategically, so deliberately, to de-demonize the National Front, and at such cost — after distancing herself from her father to the point of political patricide, and perhaps, given his age and his health, literal patricide, too; after being disowned by him (as her mother and sister were, pour le mémoire), to say this now? Only Freud offers the insight that could make sense of such a thing. She could not bear the unconscious guilt. And so she had to kill herself, politically, too — to punish herself, and to repair her love affair with her father before his death.
That’s the only theory that I find a satisfying explanation of an otherwise inexplicable act of self-destruction, not to mention a grotesque insult to the memory of children who were separated in terror from their parents, starved, bludgeoned, and killed, by the French authorities, as every man, woman, and child in France knows only too well; and the destruction, too, to her life’s work, her party, her friends, her career and her movement — all in one comment, made in a blazing moment of unconscious but spectacular intentionality.
She simply couldn’t forgive herself for killing her father. But at last, at least, the Old Man must be so proud.
IT’S UP TO YOU
So this is the story. If it leaves you at ease with the idea that a member of this family could come to power, today, in a nation critical to the past and the future of Europe, one with an independent nuclear deterrent, at that, then we’ve come to the end of the discussion. Let’s be polite and mature about it: You go your way; I’ll go mine.
But I trust that most of you, now that you know all of this, will get it, too. She is no amalgam of Joan of Arc and Winston Churchill; she is not what a demoralized France so needs. She is a cut-rate Eva Peron surrounded by honest-to-god Vichy-apologists and neo-Nazis nuts, and not insignificantly, a neurotic, a hysteric, one in the grip of such powerful family demons, that she can neither control herself nor exorcise them. This is hardly the woman we need in this role when the world is already busily spinning off its axis, is it?
Let’s pray that in a few more hours, at least, we will no longer have to worry about it.
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