Sunday, March 27, 2011

Is Marine Le Pen France's Sarah Palin?

The French far-right National party (le Front National) has dominated the political discussions in France following the first round of local elections after they, under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, made historic gains.

Whenever I have to explain to my American friends who Marine Le Pen is, I can't help comparing her to Sarah Palin, but then I wonder.... how relevant is this comparison?

So I guess I was somewhat relieved to see that Time Magazine has wondered the same thing and I agree with their conclusion that despite differences, "there are enough similarities between Palin and Le Pen to merit comparison".

First, the obvious - both Marine Le Pen and Sarah Palin have traditional extreme right-wing agendas which include :
- a bunker mentality: seeing outsiders and Otherness as enemies (immigrants, Islam, foreign businesses, international organizations, the U.N., the EU, etc...)
- a return to strict-father traditional values, and a tough-on-crime policy (including capital punishment) by emphasizing law and order and social order.
- the use of populist arguments (claiming to speak for "the true Americans" or "les vrais fran├žais" and to fight the 'establishment'(politicians and the left-wing media) and bureaucrats (in Brussels or Washington) associated with moral decay.
- the use nationalist exceptionalism claiming the superiority of the nation over anything else.
Both are women who use their personal appeal to draw attention and both are also extremely good with the media.

Despite the obvious resemblance Marine Le Pen does not really like being compared to Sarah Palin :
“I can not be compared with Madame Palin, and the National Front isn't similar to the Tea Party,” Le Pen told TIME recently, insisting that some of the positions Tea Partiers hold are, well, more extreme than her own, “You have to be honest: we have almost nothing in common with the Tea Party. The two political systems are very different, and (Palin's) positions reflect that.” (Time)

This is where it gets interesting. The differences between Marine Le Pen and Sarah Palin are real but they only reflect the cultural differences between France and the U.S..

Not surprisingly, the most notable difference is the role of government (see precisely our previous post on this very topic) : the European far-right has always been supportive of a strong state (or government) which would defend the interests of the nation (including economic protectionism) whereas the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin are about the opposite - less government.
Yet one could probably draw a parallel between the hatred of the Federal government and Washington of the Tea Party and the hatred of the European Union and Brussels in the FN.

Another major distinction has to do with religion - and this too reflects cultural differences between religious America and secular France and Marine Le Pen is much less direct about her faith and her support of Christianity; although she - like the FN - have used Christianity to set the "true French" apart from say, the Muslims, talking about "“the values and principles of the French Republic that our rooted in our Christian history”.

And of course, there are other differences that are highly cultural (and I'm not just talking about the make-up). No way Marine Le Pen would pose with guns or use "don't retreat, reload" expressions or emphasize folk-talk to sound more like real people (here). Guns, rugged individualism or going rogue can only appeal to Americans whose national myth has to do with the Frontier. (see our posts here, here and here)

Oh, and Marine Le Pen would not wink either . ast but not least, I think that Marine Le Pen is a much more dangerous politician precisely because she's much more serious and cunning than Sarah Palin, and I agree with Newsweek here :
Perhaps the key difference between the two women is that Marine is a deadly serious politician. The French won't be seeing her in any reality-TV shows. It's impossible to imagine her choosing media stardom over holding high office.
[Marine] Le Pen grew up in a household that was all politics all the time, with her father the object of sometimes violent attacks by competing factions on the right, as well as by the left. (Newsweek)

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UPDATE 1: The results of today's second round of regional elections in France will tell us more about the extent to which the far-right appeals to the French voters.
A word of caution though, it seems already that the vote turnout was very low which means that the results of more important national elections might end up being very different.
In any case, no doubt that good results of Marine Le Pen's National Front in the first round has already shaken up the entire French political landscape and will be the center of political concern of candidates in the presidential elections in 2012.
You betcha!


Abie said...

Disposable comment:
Your "here" links are devoid of any URL, I'm afraid...
Also, your "last but not least" lacks a letter.

Anonymous said...

Both terribly frightening women with even more frightening agendas...

Anonymous said...

Compared to Sarah Palin, Marine Le Pen is extreme left on many issues. Plus, she's the only candidate who's not a corporate or EU puppet.