That’s what the French awoke to after this weekend’s elections. The expected shoo-in victor, veteran Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, lost by a nose, coming in third behind ultra-nationalist populist National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. On May 5 Le Pen will face corruption-hectored incumbent Gaullist President Jacques Chirac, 69. One prominent Socialist calls the coming runoff "a choice between the Right and the Extreme Right."
Jospin, who says he will leave politics after May 5, refused to throw his support to President Chirac. Most others on the French Left have, however, leading to predictions that Chirac will defeat Le Pen by a 78-22 vote margin. People lied to pollsters before, and the real margin on May 5 could be closer than now expected.
Le Pen, 73, was born a fisherman’s son in Brittany in 1928. He joined the French Foreign Legion in 1954 and as a paratrooper faced violent combat in Indochina (Vietnam) and Algeria, a North African nation ruled all or in part by France since 1830.
When Le Pen arrived, Algeria was regarded not as a colony but as a District of France itself and home famed French author Albert Camus. But radicals had plunged Algeria into bloody, dirty terrorist warfare that, by the time France granted it independence on July 3, 1962, cost more than 250,000 French and Algerian lives.
Le Pen emerged from such combat as a fiercely passionate French nationalist with little love for foreigners, especially Arabs or Muslims. In France he became a zealous supporter of ultra-nationalist candidates, formed the National Front Party during the 1960s to advance such views, and adopted the motto of World War II’s Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime (which Le Pen has always refused to condemn): "Work, Family, Fatherland."
Le Pen, in more than half a dozen runs as a presidential candidate, mined a dark subterranean vein of racism and resentment, tapping the kinds of hatred that led Vichy to ship 75,000 French Jews off to Hitler’s death camps. (Remember how Bill Clinton’s supporters urged America to imitate France’s "superior" moral tolerance and indifference?)
"In a book of 1,000 pages on the Second World War," Le Pen once infamously said, "the gas chambers take up 10 to 15 inches. That is a detail."
But in 2002 Le Pen had refocused his softened message – "I am not a racist. I am a Francophile" – onto targets that found widespread popular resonance – crime, immigration, and the loss of French sovereignty and independence to a unified European government ruled from Brussels.
Fear of crime was soaring in France, especially since March 27 when a madman walked into the legislative chamber in the Paris suburb of Nanterre and opened fire, killing eight city council members. Violent crime by "ghetto youth" to many in France has become a code-word for race.
The recent firebombings of Jewish synagogues in Marseilles and Montpellier (as well as Antwerp and Brussels), apparently by Muslim immigrants, ironically fueled voter fear and desire to send a get-tough-on-crime message by voting for two-fisted Le Pen.
"Europe is becoming Islamicized," says Pat Buchanan. His book The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press, 2002) argues that mostly Muslim immigrants from North Africa and Turkey are flooding into Europe as its own Caucasian population declines.
In Europe – because of birth control, abortion, euthanasia, loss of faith, selfishness, and government welfare supplanting the need to have children to provide for one’s old age – birth rates are far below replacement level and falling, warns Buchanan.
Instead of the required minimum 2.1 children per couple to maintain the same population, today’s European average rate of babies per couple is 1.4. In Germany, births per couple have plummeted to 1.3; in Italy, 1.2; in Russia, 1.17, and in Spain 1.07. Demographically speaking, writes Buchanan, Europe is dying out and doomed.
(The Muslim invasion halted by French warrior Charles Martel, "The Hammer," in A.D. 732, has returned and seems destined to conquer France and the rest of Europe, this time by making love, not war.)
Buchanan’s book carefully avoids giving the reproductive number for France, which is a higher 1.72 babies per couple. But this statistic, deconstructed, reveals only 1.3 babies on average born to Caucasian French couples.
The higher number comes because about 15 percent of France’s population is recent immigrants, mostly dark-skinned Muslims from North Africa. These couples from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco have on average 3.5 babies, making them the fastest-growing part of France’s increasingly non-white, decreasingly Judeo-Christian population.
"Massive immigration has only just begun," preaches Le Pen. "It is the biggest problem facing France, Europe and probably the world. We risk being submerged."
Le Pen likens these immigrants to a swarm of starlings who pounce upon a cherry tree and devour its fruit. He proposes to respond by providing social benefits and job preferences only to white-skinned French citizens. He has variously said: "The immigrants will not be forced to leave. But once they can’t get jobs or benefit, there will be little incentive for them to stay," and "I pledge an immediate end to all immigration and to send three million immigrants home."
He also favors paying women to stay home to reduce unemployment of men. The French Government, long fearful of low birth demographics, in January 2002 expanded financial and time-off benefits to both mothers and fathers, including the self-employed and unemployed, to encourage breeding. The European Union likewise is planning to extend leave rights to men who father babies.
"I call on patriots, sovereignists and authentic republicans to unite around my candidacy," said Le Pen, "to oppose the technocratic Europe of Brussels and create a true popular force to defend national independence and oppose globalization."
Le Pen’s National Front along with its similar splinter party won nearly 20 percent of the vote, almost the identical percentage as incumbent President Jacques Chirac. The low 72 percent of the electorate who turned out had 16 candidates to choose among, including three Trotskyites, two Greens, and one Communist (whose once-powerful party garnered only 3.4 percent of the vote).
The high moment of the campaign, shown endlessly even in the U.S. on the "Tonight Show" by Jay Leno, was news videotape of French center-right candidate Francois Bayrou slapping a small Arab boy whom he says was pick-pocketing him. This widely-shown act, and the fact that it sent Bayrou’s popularity soaring, spoke volumes.
Socialist Jospin adopted fellow Leftists Bill Clinton’s and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s tactic of pretending to be a moderate who was scarcely different from Chirac. This left many citizens cold – but it reflected the Jospin-Clinton-Blair recognition that thinking people now see the Left as a failure.
Over the weekend the quasi-Marxist German Chancellor and Clinton pal Gerhard Schroder (so vain he recently sued critics who reported that he dyed his hair) saw his Social Democrats lose badly in the election in Germany’s poorest state and onetime Leftist stronghold, Saxony-Anhalt. This means the Right can now block legislation in the upper chamber of Germany’s Parliament, and means that Schroder and the Left may lose power altogether in September’s elections.
The new wave of politics emerging in Europe is that of Le Pen and similar populist-nationalist right-wing parties already ruling in Italy via Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and rapidly growing in power in Norway, Denmark, Holland, Austria, Switzerland and Portugal.
"Across Europe, people are losing the feeling that they control their own prosperous future," wrote Roger Boyes in The Times of London. "They are reacting with tribal instincts," of what he scorns as "saloon bar politics." At least Boyes avoided saying "beer hall politics," but his liberal concern is clear enough. The Left is dying out in Europe even faster than its Caucasian population.
"I appeal to all French, whatever their race and religion," said Le Pen, "to seize this historic chance to revive the nation. I am on the left socially and on the right economically and more than ever a nationalist for France….[the French people] desire to rip out the decay that is hitting our country….I am a free man, a patriot, who has no other ambition but to ensure that France is for the French." Rhetorically, at least, Le Pen has taken on bits of chameleon coloration that Americans might call populist or even Libertarian.
We can only hope that the gravitational pull exerted on European politics by Le Pen’s and other parties of the Right help restore economic sanity and balance to its democracies. Europe would find its mental health and vitality restored if something resembling the American right became its guiding politics.