by Cinzia Croce
As soon as it was clear that Emmanuel Macron would be facing Marine Le Pen in the final round of the French presidential election, the other major candidates immediately closed rank behind Macron in an effort to keep Le Pen from reaching the Élysée. The only exception was Jean-Luc Mélenchon – the far left candidate – who initially said he wanted to see the official results before conceding, but eventually declined to endorse either candidate, deeming them both unacceptable. The reason offered for supporting Macron – who has never held elected office and founded his political party only a year ago – has little to do with Marine Le Pen as a candidate, or even her particular political program. Rather, it has everything to do with a negative consensus about her political party, the National Front.
Marine’s party was founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 1972, to unite various nationalist and reactionary movements on the political right. The party attracted monarchists, Vichy nostalgists, ultra-conservative Catholics, and other fringe elements. Jean Marie Le Pen added to the toxicity of his party by repeatedly trying to minimize the horrors of the Holocaust. Consequently, for most of its history, the National Front was deemed an untouchable party, and operated at the margins of French politics.
In 2011, Marine took over the party leadership from her father and began the process of reforming the National Front and bringing it into the mainstream. She purged many of the unsavory elements within the party, even going so far as to expel her own father. Despite all of her efforts, Marine is being held accountable for what François Fillon – the defeated presidential candidate for the French Republican Party – described as the National Front’s “history of violence and intolerance” — and Marine herself indirectly acknowledged the anchor weight that is her party on her political aspirations by resigning as its leader a day after reaching the runoff.
Invoking the history of the National Front to disqualify Marine Le Pen was a smart political tactic. American Democratic commentators and operatives holding her party’s history against her, however, is amusing and highly hypocritical. No matter how ugly the history of the National Front, it pales in comparison to the Democratic Party’s history of violence and intolerance. The Democratic Party was responsible for the Trail of Tears which claimed the lives of thousands of Native Americans. It is the party that defended slavery before the Civil War and segregation after it, and placed Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II. If a history of promoting violence and intolerance was a disqualifying trait in America, then the Democratic Party would have been long ago thrown on the ash heap of history.
Yet all it took was for one prominent Dixiecrat – Strom Thurmond – to switch to the GOP, and the entire history of Democratic racism against African-Americans was pinned on the party of Lincoln. Never mind that dozens of Dixiecrat Senators and Governors returned and remained Democrats until the end of the political career, never mind that George Wallace, who infamously declared “Segregation now, segregation forever” also returned to the Democratic fold, or that a former recruiter for the KKK – Robert C. Byrd – served as Senate Majority Leader. Sure, they all apologized for their past segregationist ways — but it would seem a tainted past is forgiven only if you are a member of the Democratic Party.
As expected, Macron won the French presidency handily. Nevertheless, Marine Le Pen can be proud of the fact that she has doubled the support her father received in the 2002 presidential runoff. During her concession speech, she called for her party to renew and transform itself into “a new political force” able to address the challenges facing France. The National Front’s Vice President, Florian Philippot, even went as far as to suggest that the party may change its name. Perhaps Marine and her strategists should consult with the experts when it comes to successfully escape the taint of a long history of violence and intolerance: the Democrats.