The Guardian has a great article on the successful rebranding of the French National Front under its new young leader, Marine Le Pen:

The French political elite was given a short, sharp lesson in not underestimating the FN in 2002. In a completely unexpected scenario, Jean-Marie Le Pen knocked the Socialist candidate out. He lost in the second-round run-off, but the incident provoked a bout of national shame and self-loathing that left deep scars.

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s hectoring antisemitism and bullying rhetoric could not sustain the success. But in January 2010 Marine Le Pen was elected the FN’s president and overhauled the party.

She dumped the shaven-haired bully boys nominally responsible for “security” at FN rallies for fresh-faced girls in jeans and crisp T-shirts, and abandoned the neo-Nazism and outdated references to the second world war. She even voiced support for homosexual marriage.

There were flashes of Le Pen senior in her railing against Muslims praying in the streets – which she likened to the Nazi occupation – “corrupt” politicians, European technocrats, and that old FN chestnut, immigration. And while it was generally agreed that she was softer and cleverer than her father, the fundamental ideology of the FN seemed to have changed little.

“She’s a young woman and she plays on that softer image. She’s also good at getting her message across, much, much better than her father,” said Nonna Mayer, who is an expert on France’s far right and a professor at the Paris Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).

“But it’s the same politics of scapegoating that it always has been. It’s still the extreme right. There’s no getting away from it.”

I used to think that Europe was way ahead of us. But these days, I’m starting to think we’re ahead of them. Our innate multiculturalism forced us to grapple with what everyone else will have to in the wake of globalization, and countries that once seemed like forward-looking, tolerant, and progressive are seeing the rise of sentiments that have been commonplace here for a long time. But the thing is, I’m actually relatively hopeful for America. Our young people just have little conception (for the most part) of race-based grievances, and the younger you get, the less there is. In the medium term, we should be fine. But a lot of these European countries are going to have to reckon with this stuff, and I have no idea how long it’s going to take. Hopefully shorter than it’s taken us.

In any event, let’s just hope Ms. Le Pen doesn’t get anywhere close to power this year.

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  1. Metavirus says:

    one always has to remember that european social democracy generally has one huge caveat: ALL THE GOODIES ARE ONLY FOR “WE”, NOT FOR “THEE”. european multiculturalism is much more of a paternalistic thing that never forgets that the “true germans” or “true french” or “true danes” are the ones being so self-congratulatorily nice to all those delightful brown people who need a handout. but when economic times get tough, the “true X” people snap right back to the golden rule of “MINE!”.

    for all that’s wrong with america, the one thing i always find that is truly and profoundly unique about us is that we are, albeit imperfectly, the closest thing the world has to a true melting pot. even though we still have big problems with racism and the like, we actually wrestle with these issues on a continuing basis (and thereby improve), whereas most europeans just sneer in private at rowdy brown people in their midst, and then go out and say nice things in public, pat themselves on the back and sweep the strife under the carpet.

    • Lev says:

      Well put. Certainly, the same dynamic that holds in America exists everywhere, in the sense that tribalism is part of human nature. At least here there’s an expectation that others ought to have a chance, at least in theory.

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