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Monday, April 24, 2017

How the French Socialists "Bait and Switched" the French people into ensuring that another Socialist wins the Presidency.

Links: A. Macron, Le Pen to face-off in French Presidential Election.
           B. Sarkozy investigated over illegal campaign financing.

I followed the 2017 French Presidential Election very closely, as I was interested to see just how the powerful Socialist political machine was going to accept defeat.  Back in 2012, Socialist Francois Hollande moved into the Elysee Palace on a wave of optimism and confidence as a member of the Socialist Party (PS).  Although Republican President Nicolas Sarkozy continued to maintain a surprisingly high level of popularity, it wasn't enough to overcome an untimely investigation into illegal campaign funding.  Sadly for Hollande and his supporters, it didn't take long for the wheels to come off.  The reality is, the French economy can't support Socialist policy, and we all know how much the French enjoy despising the politician that they just put in power.  Bad policy begat high unemployment and economic stagnation, as the Unions tightened their stranglehold over Hollande.  Everytime it seemed that he was considering a bit or reform here and their, maybe deregulation and privatization to feed the economy, the leftists took to the streets to remind him who was boss.  Then the terror attacks started in earnest, with Hollande talking tough on one hand, but emasculated on the other by the EU's refugee and open-borders policy.  Hollande's approval rating was languishing somewhere around fifteen percent in 2016, when the PS big shots met to discuss the 2017 election.

The field of candidates for the 2017 promised to be full of heavy-hitters.  The Republicans could count on former President Nicolas Sarkozy and Mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppe to fight for the party nomination, and far-left politician Jean-Luc Melanchon, who won eleven percent of the vote in the first round of the 2012 election, had announced his candidacy.  Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front (FN), was considered to be a candidate ever since coming in third with just over seventeen percent in 2012.  During the primaries, the Republicans surprised most analysts by shelving Sarkozy and Juppe and choosing Francois Fillon, who had served as Prime Minister from 2007 to 2012 under President Jacques Chirac.  The Socialists, who played the part of the lame-duck party to perfection, nominated Benoit Hamon from the far-left wing of the party.  In fact, Hamon was so left-wing that he resigned from Hollande's cabinet because he felt that Hollande wasn't being true to the Socialist agenda.  Once the primaries were complete and the campaigning started in earnest, it appeared as if Fillon was the man to beat.  The French voter seemed determined to sideline the Socialists, and Le Pen, because of her policies of ending refugee resettlement in France and moving France away from the EU, was considered unelectable.  But just as soon as Fillon settled in to being the front-runner, a scandal descended upon his campaign involving corruption and his immediate family.  When I think of the scandals and accusations of corruption in French politics, I can't help but marvel at the timing.  Jacques Chirac was hounded by such accusations, as was Nicolas Sarkozy.  Its not so much an issue of false accusations as much as it is a question of timing, and no doubt Francois Fillon wished that his troubles had been presented by the media earlier on, when the issue had initially been discovered.

At about the same time that Fillon found himself mired in accusations of corruption, another candidate was beginning to gain traction.  It wasn't Le Pen, or the erstwhile grumbling leftist Melanchon, it was Emmanuel Macron, who eschewed running in the Socialist primary against Hamon, and started his own political movement, self-named "En Marche" (best translated as "working").  Surprisingly Macron, a long-time Socialist politician who had served in Hollande's cabinet until 2015, started the political season with an experienced staff and financial support basically already in-place.  One would have expected Macron to run in the Socialist primary, but that was a dead-end.  It was obvious that even the resurrection of Francois Mitterrand himself could not bring victory to the PS banner in 2017.  Macron was not the kind of politician to knowingly sabotage his future by staying true to the party and losing, which Hamon seemed more than willing to do.  Macron, heretofore a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist, realized that the French electorate would not vote for a candidate of the left, so overnight he evolved into a self-labeled CENTRIST.  Since the arrival on the scene of his "En Marche" movement, I've tried to determine exactly what it means to be a Centrist, as far as French politics are concerned, and I've come to the conclusion that a Centrist is a Socialist who wants so badly to keep the left in power, that they are willing to adopt a new political description.  All Macron had to do was self-identify as a Centrist, and twenty years of involvement in Socialist politics would magically disappear.  The creation of the En Marche movement certainly helped, especially as it gave young voters something new under which to rally.  From the beginning, the French media adored the youthful, handsome Macron, whose policy positions seemed almost exclusively molded to support France's connection to the European Union. He didn't sound like a Socialist in his campaign appearances, but neither did he come across as anti-left.  With Fillon on the ropes, Le Pen spending most of her time fighting the continual media-driven accusations of anti-Semitism and bigotry, and Hamon never really considered a legitimate candidate, Macron had little difficulty moving to the front of the pack.

The French people were determined to provide a bit of suspense, even if Macron did end up moving into the second round with the highest vote total.  Le Pen earned a spot in the second round as well, finishing just two percentage points behind Macron.  Fillon started to get his act together late in the game, but it was not enough to make it beyond the first round.  He finished with almost twenty percent, and right on his heels was the far-left candidate Melanchon, with nineteen percent.  I was absolutely shocked at the accuracy of the French exit polling, which came within percentages of picking the exact totals for the top four candidates.  The Exit Polling also made it clear that Marine Le Pen has little to no chance of winning on May 7, conjecture which is strengthened by the fact that all the losing candidates except Melanchon, followed the now-familiar script by encouraging their voters to support Macron.  From my perspective, the "anyone but Le Pen" refrain is not very French, and runs the very real risk of antagonizing an electorate that values independent thinking.  Its dangerous to count out Le Pen, especially when you take into account that she won 46 out of a total of 107 Departments.  As for my strong suspicion that the Socialist political apparatus in France created Macron as a "fake Centrist" in order to keep the Socialists in power, I can offer no concrete proof.  I guess its possible that Macron had a change of political heart and no longer supports the Socialist agenda, but at this stage, it doesn't really matter.  As far as I'm concerned, though, if Macron wins as expected, France will be embarking on another five-year period with a president from the left. 

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