AFTER LAST YEAR’S voting jump scares, Western democracy’s next harrowing installment is now upon us: France.
On April 23, les Français et les Françaises elect a new President. They will choose from eleven (oui, eleven) names on the ballot. The top two candidates from the initial lineup— assuming no one wins a majority in the first round—then head to a run-off on May 7. At that point, it will become clear if France will be joining in the nationalist impulses of its American and British allies. How far from the current unpopular administration will the country pivot? Will the Republic forge ahead with incremental globalist reform? Or will the fringes get their chance to upend the system? Polling results reveal mainly the large number of undecided voters and a deepening apathy that squares the true consensus choice as None Of The Above. Whatever the projections, the center is not exactly holding.
Sitting president François Hollande, having realized his dismal chances, has decided not to run again. Likewise, both the prime minister who served under him and his predecessor attempting a desperate comeback lost in respective primaries. Another former prime minister and one-time front-runner, center-right candidate François Fillon, is, according to one of his own aides, “cooked,” thanks to an embarrassing financial scandal (i.e. paying his wife for a government job it seems she didn’t perform). Though Fillon is not (yet) an establishment casualty, the momentum this year belongs to the newcomers and ideological extremists, notably the anti-capitalist far-left and the anti-immigrant far-right.
Meanwhile, the old intractable issues haven’t changed. French taxes remain sky high, state bureaucracy cumbersome and domestic growth slow. Unemployment hovers still at 10 percent, and terrorism flares at regular intervals. With a recent letter-bomb at the Paris IMF offices and a thwarted gunman at an airport, the next Charlie Hebdo or Bataclan keeps a dark placeholder in citizens’ collective imagination. Fear has never been more fashionable in the republic of light and reason.
It’s the familiar trending paranoia. But for this American expatriate hoping his adopted country can stay saner than his native one, France holds one valuable distinction over its now flailing younger cousin: the electoral system.
Every election year, the French presidential choice is a top news story for about four months. Campaign advertising is mostly confined to allotted poster space at polling locations. No individual mailers, no robo-calls, no TV spots with candidates who approve the message, no Super PACS. All candidates, even those from the fractional niche parties, sit down with network broadcasters. Airtime is meticulously balanced, to the point that a timer placed below the lectern during debates shows how many minutes and seconds each hopeful has run his or her mouth. Election day then arrives on a Sunday where organized poll workers efficiently tabulate a direct popular vote. No redrawn districts, no intermediary electors. The run-off two weeks later reaffirms the will of the people, a kind of “Are you sure you want to do this?” for citizens to select cancel or OK.
It’s a reasonable system that might be enough to result in a reasonable president. It may be the only hope, the last barricade for the 5th French republic and its larger pluralist Union created after occupation and ruin on French soil on the conviction that interdependence could prevent another swell of nationalism and another world war.
Interdependence, though, has been a tough sell in Western politics of late.
So in the spirit of egalité, here are the eleven first-round candidates who’d like to take the helm for the next five years. Taken together, they offer a decent reflection of the French population at large.
Candidate: François Fillon
Slogan: Freewill for France (recently changed after scandals made the original slogan, The Courage of Truth, sound ironic)
Honest Slogan: I’ve Got A Lot More to Offer Than Political Corruption!
Big Ideas: Balance budget, eliminate wasteful government spending and unnecessary public posts, reduce VAT and business taxes, new immigration quotas, align with Russia (including lifting of sanctions) to fight ISIS in Syria
Overheard if Elected: “Why does it feel like we already had this guy?”
Anglo equivalent: Love child of David Cameron and Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney
Odds: Once upon a time, he was almost the favorite. Then, the story exploded that he paid his wife hundreds of thousands for a government job alleged to be nonexistent. Then came tales of his children receiving public funds. Then, he received a gift of expensive suits just as the first scandal was breaking. Nepotism, deceit and elitism have defined his campaign ever since.
Most Popular Way to Deface Campaign Poster: Price tags on suit lapels, X’s over eyes, slogan changed by blacking a few letters to read “A Theft for France”, eyebrows even bushier
Candidate: Marine Le Pen
Party: National Front
Slogan: In the Name of the People
Honest Slogan: Cooperation Is For Suckers!
Big Ideas: Ditch the EU and NATO with eventual goal of readopting the franc as the national currency, tighten borders and restrictions over the “burden” of immigration, freeze construction of new mosques and monitor the content of sermons in all existing ones, abolish marriage equality, quadruple police force and prison personnel
Overheard if Elected: “I guess we really are that unfriendly.”
Anglo equivalent: Trump, but with clothes that fit and a carefully crafted plan
Odds: The polls and pundits claiming populist trends won’t continue sure are reassuring…
Most Popular Way to Deface Campaign Poster: Requisite Hitler mustache and swastikas, Trump hair or hijab over head, various rips that indicate poster was clawed at with particular intensity
Candidate: Emmanuel Macron
Party: En Marche!
Slogan: France must be an opportunity for all.
Honest Slogan: High Ideals! Higher Leap of Faith!
Big Ideas: 60 billion euro economic stimulus over next five years, encourage small business growth, strengthen international alliances, welcome more refugees, redouble efforts on renewable energy, liberty is a grander priority than security, all things made possible by his independent-minded policies and brand-new party
Overheard if Elected: “He’s basically a teenager so, of course, he was bound to make mistakes.”
Anglo equivalent: Justin Trudeau with no dynasty and a cozier relationship to banks
Odds: An adoring media and a base of urban go-getters might convince rural and older voters to back the optimism of a 39-year old who’s never been elected to public office, but, you know, maybe we can dream like Americans once did.
Most Popular Way to Deface Campaign Poster: Dollar signs over eyes, Rothschild bank donation amounts tattooed on forehead, pacifier in mouth
Candidate: Bernard Hamon
Slogan: Make the Heart of France Beat
Honest Slogan: The François Hollande We Were Meant To Have
Big Ideas: 750€/month for every citizen over 18 across the board regardless of income or situation, reduce work week, increase workers rights, raise taxes on enterprise, shift away from nuclear energy to renewable (a plank that was enough to get the Green Party to merge with the Socialists this year)
Overheard if Elected: “The more we complain, the more things remain the same.”
Anglo equivalent: A solid blue-state Congressman plucked out of obscurity and into the spotlight
Odds: That he’s a relative fresh face from the incumbent party beset by unpopularity and in-fighting was supposed to help, but he hasn’t much generated enthusiasm
Most Popular Way to Deface Campaign Poster: Money bulging from the left, ears even more elf-like
Candidate: Jean-Luc Mélenchon
Party: Unsubmissive France
Slogan: The Strength of the People
Honest Slogan: Allow Me to Lecture You About Your Morals!
Big Ideas: Rewrite the Constitution to form a new 6th republic, renegotiate EU, adieu NATO, raise high the minimum wage, curtail banks and private enterprise, increase green regulations, create a new National Guard run exclusively by the youth, legalize the ganj
Overheard if Elected: “Do you hear the people sing?/Singing the song of angry men/It is the music of the people/Who will not be slaves again!”
Anglo equivalent: A yet more radical and insurgent Bernie Sanders
Odds: Surprisingly higher than last time he ran
Most Popular Way to Deface Campaign Poster: Projectile vomiting, labor union stickers covering face, joint in mouth
Candidate: Nicholas Dupont-Aignan
Party: Stand Up France!
Slogan: (party name is slogan)
Honest Slogan: I Make Le Pen Look Like a Snowflake!
Big Ideas: Leave EU, block foreigners, tighten sphincter
Overheard if Elected: “With most of us deported or in jail, we’re not allowed to complain.”
Anglo equivalent: A warm-blooded Nigel Farage
Most Popular Way to Deface Campaign Poster: Quick tags to empty spray can after completing Le Pen work
Candidate: François Asselineau
Party: Popular Republican Union
Slogan: The Candidate of Frexit
Honest Slogan: A One-Trick Pony Requires Less Thought
Big Ideas: Full, immediate split from EU, no negotiating
Overheard if Elected: “Who’s this guy, again?”
Anglo equivalent: A solid red-state Congressman who’s decided only he can take his country back
Odds: Will be lucky to siphon a few votes from the far right
Most Popular Way to Deface Campaign Poster: Some penises in face for good measure
Candidate: Jean Lassalle
Party: We Resist!
Slogan: Defender of Rural Territories and Ecological Humanism
Honest Slogan: What Century Now?
Big Ideas: Adhere to renewable energy guidelines, more government posts through emphasis on climate change fight, full immediate citizen rights to foreigners
Overheard If Elected: “Remember when we thought the last president was indecisive and sleepy?”
Anglo equivalent: A woke Oregon farmer who’s decided only he can stick it to the man
Odds: Might garner some votes from people pulling for comic relief
Most Popular Way to Deface Campaign Poster: No need because the actual beret he’s wearing already looks like a weird joke
Candidate: Philippe Poutou
Party: New Anti-Capitalist Party
Slogan: Our Lives, Not Their Profits!
Honest Slogan: Eat the Rich!
Big Ideas: Anti-free market, revolution against state, stop working and be free
Overheard If Elected: “They said the banks and the supermarkets might reopen sometime next year.”
Anglo equivalent: Your cool professor sophomore year of college
Odds: Just psyched to be on television every five years
Most Popular Way to Deface Campaign Poster: Filling out stubble, more joints in mouth
Candidate: Nathalie Arthaud
Party: Worker’s Fight
Slogan: Make the Worker’s Position Heard
Honest Slogan: We Never Gave the Commies a Fair Shake
Big Ideas: Workers lose chains, businesses loses everything else, nuclear energy put under control of average citizens
Overheard if Elected: “The price fixing on the bread hasn’t taken my mind off the fact that we had to give our house to the neighbors.”
Anglo equivalent: Your bookish hallmate sleeping with the cool professor sophomore year of college
Most Popular Way to Deface Campaign Poster: Lengthy points of contention scrawled in cursive by members of own party
Candidate: Jacques Cheminade
Party: Solidarity and Progress
Slogan: Free Ourselves From Financial Occupation
Honest Slogan: Can You Believe I’m the 11th Candidate?
Big Ideas: Abandon business-as-usual to focus on his longtime signature obsession: colonizing outer space
Overheard if Elected: “And we thought it couldn’t get any weirder than Trump.”
Anglo equivalent: His old friend and fellow basketcase Lyndon LaRouche
Most Popular Way to Deface Campaign Poster: Left alone out of pity
Those are the 2017 French choices. Each one of them are, by varying degrees, less than ideal. But for this outsider who has lived and filled out paperwork and criss-crossed borders with bicultural kids and most of all loved in France, the benefit of the doubt goes to the pragmatic optimism of Emmanuel Macron.
He stands the best chance of countering the galloping nationalism, the isolationism and the very real, detonated, global threat of Donald Trump. He can confront these forces neither with firepower nor complicity but by simply proving to be the better thriving example, a symbolic new leaf turned over for France and a practical step toward smarter cooperation and deeper progress. It may then even vault France into an unfamiliar role for the 21st century: world leader. If only the citizens are ready to accept it.