In French presidential debate, Le Pen is the one who spoke to France

In French presidential debate, Le Pen is the one who spoke to France
Debate night. Le Pen looks at the audience. Macron, making with the fist, looks at Le Pen. (Images: Screen grabs of France 24 video, YouTube)

If ever body language defined a moment, it was in the French presidential debate on 3 May 2017.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.  The candidates said pretty much what you’d expect them to say (although Emmanuel Macron, the all-purpose leftist heading his sudden En Marche! party, surprised me with his tone-deafness a few times).  But the body language told a story about political confidence and experience – chops – that simply could not be missed.

Throughout the debate, Marine Le Pen had to wrangle with the moderators as well as with her opponent.  She was combative, certainly, and often sarcastic and trenchant where a mainstream politician would observe the conventions of more collegial discourse.

But she had humor as well, and quickly came off as a confident debater who knew how to wage this fight.  She looked like an old warrior with experience in the arena.  The moderators didn’t slow her down very much – although they were trying to.

And Le Pen did two things Macron never did.  She addressed the national audience – literally, by frequently turning her head toward the “audience view” camera and framing her words to reach the voters – and she stayed on message.

On the soundstage, she was the only one of four speakers talking to the audience: the French people.

Characteristic: Marine Le Pen looking engaged with the national audience; Emmanuel Macron looking like someone told him to keep an eye on Le Pen. (Image: Screen grab of France 24 video via Breitbart)

Macron, by contrast, directed his speech to either Le Pen or the moderators.  And when speaking to the moderators, it was clear he was sort of emotionally touching base with them for reassurance.  There was no question that the moderators were a friendly corner for him.  Most of us have been in, or at least witnessed, an argument in which the people on the same side turn to each other for those brief split seconds of reassurance as they’re making a point.  Macron did that over and over and over again with the moderators.

He came off like a well-schooled boy.  He didn’t appear to have much emotional connection to the issues that were discussed.  And unlike Le Pen, he had no real policy points to make about them.  If you went by a transcript of the debate (see link below for a summary), you might well conclude that his biggest concerns are whether autistic children have to be sent abroad for their schooling (an issue he raised out of nowhere right at the end), and Marine Le Pen’s status as an extremist whose thoughts are abhorrent to him.

He settled down a bit in the second half of the debate, but he spent the first half of it doing an odd thing with his hands, raising them as fists over and over again to punctuate his points.  I concluded that he was nervous and out of his element.  During the same period, Le Pen looked like an aging lioness, alert but relaxed, comfortable with confrontation and a sweeping gesture now and then.

None of this is to say that I favor Le Pen.  I worry seriously about her views on “minorities” and the nature of some of her core constituency — and in any case, I’m still mourning Francois Fillon, and the France that might have elected him.

But if you’re one of Les Déplorables de France, I can see why you’d expect Le Pen to fight effectively for you and your concerns – and why you’d just think “Ick” when you saw a youthful, anxious-looking Emmanuel Macron, seeking reassurance from the progressive leftists at his elbow rather than having the confidence to face the voters squarely and fight his own battles.

Trying to mainstream progressivism hasn’t worked out so well for the progressives.  Now they’re the guys in suits trying to shove bitter pills down the throats of the middle class.  But because progressivism is their game, they don’t actually have the support of the middle class for the direction their policies are taking us in.  Merely passing themselves off as “the status quo” isn’t enough to make sensible people invested in them.  Most people don’t actually want the world progressives want.

This passage from the debate, which was about an incident at a Whirlpool plant in France, is most informative (translation/summary from Breitbart London):

12:31  Macron brings up Whirlpool

Macron has courageously brought up the so-called Battle of Whirlpool , a curious episode in the debate last week where Marine Le Pen upstaged Mr Macron at a planned visit to the Whirlpool factory.

While Macron had hoped for a friendly photo opportunity with the managers of the factory, Le Pen turned up unannounced hours earlier and met with workers at the factory which is due to be closed, with work and jobs outsourced to Poland.

Upon his arrival at the factory Mr Macron was booed by workers, a point Le Pen was quick to bring up in the debate when Macron tried to turn the situation back on her, accusing the former Front National leader of not truly understanding the concerns of the workers and merely seeking to “play up for the cameras”.

Well, yeah.  Factory closing, jobs being outsourced to Poland – so-called “globalism” has no answer for that other than, “Oh, get over it.  It’s a good thing, you’ll see.  Here’s some weeks of unemployment compensation and an EBT card.”  No acknowledgment that local policies are anti-business, and if that changed more people could keep their jobs.  Just the pursuit of economically dysfunctional, ideological agendas.  And another several hundred workers lose their dignity, hope, and sense of worth.

Macron is very much the face of that form of globalism.  (He even spoke piously of respecting the views of “civil society,” one of the inherently globalist shibboleths of Euro-American progressivism.)  Jobs are statistics to progressives, as opposed to being the lifeblood and center of life for people.

There is something wrong when the political leader who “gets” that more than any other is a person with the illiberal baggage of a Marine Le Pen.  But the problem is not Le Pen.  The problem is the absence of cultural confidence – national, patriotic confidence – and true liberalism elsewhere on the political spectrum.  Macron has neither: not cultural confidence, and not true liberalism.

Good luck to France.  I’ll let Le Pen have the last word, with her zinger that will unfailingly be the memorable soundbite from the debate.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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