Vital Signs

Lessons From France

On the French nightly news for Monday, June 12, the anchor's face was so grim that, at first, I thought the French forces in Bosnia had suffered serious losses. But, no, he was reporting on the French municipal elections, the first round of voting for mayors of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. The recent presidential victory of Gaullist Jacques Chirac had not led to the collapse of the Socialist Party. Instead, initial results showed that the National Front was now a permanent part of the political scene. That was the bad news.

Founded in 1972 by French nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front (FN) had taken off in the 80's, aided by its opposition to North African immigration, permanent mass unemployment resulting from France's commitment to global free trade, and the corruption of the Socialist regime of President François Mitterrand. Mitterrand gave the FN a boost when he halved the percentage of the vote needed to send representatives to the French Parliament from 20 percent to 10 percent, expecting to split the French right. Instead, the Communist Party went from its traditional 20 percent of the vote to about 10 percent, while the National Front rose to 10 percent. Political analysts assured us that it was hasty to assume that half the communist working-class vote went over to the National Front. That is, however, what happened.

Mitterrand continued to play the Le Pen card cynically...

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