The veteran socialist has surged in the French presidential polls. But his politics arrive laden with unsavoury baggage that cant easily be discarded
With Frances presidential election on Sunday being so completely unpredictable, the danger of Marine Le Pen is real but so is the danger of another brand of polarising, radical and destructive populism. It is found on the far left, with the predominance of Jean-Luc Mlenchon.
Some progressives have taken to describing the 65 -year-old former senator and former junior Socialist minister as the new incarnation of a rejuvenation of the left. That Mlenchon has managed to gain in the polls to the point of perhaps being able to reach the presidential run-off is surely no small accomplishment. But to believe that his campaign stands for an attractive, socially minded and more democratic or alternative Europe is delusional.
Mlenchon is essentially a nationalist, despite his internationalist credo. And his pities for autocratic strongmen such as Vladimir Putin or Hugo Chvez cannot be easily swept aside, as if these were just blunders in an otherwise promising platform. If you believe that the European project must be salvaged and improved rather than dismantled, Mlenchon really cannot be your man. Not if you seem closely.
To be sure, hes having a good run. Unfamiliarity helps. Many outside France and within it , notably among children and young people have only recently discovered him. Hes managed to capitalise on some of the rage that animates much of their constituencies: hes apparently even stealing elections from Le Pen. The French are depleted by decades of high unemployment, theyre deeply distrustful of the political class, and theyre worried about an unpredictable international environment.
Mlenchon is a talented orator. His fiery rhetoric in speeches and savvy, quickfire remarks in recent television debates have helped his numbers surge. One of his mottoes is degagisme , who are capable of translate as kick them out targeting the rest of the political class. He likes to quote Maximilien Robespierre and Victor Hugo. He casts himself as a hero of the people ( les gens ), a single, homogeneous entity, targeted against the establishment. His frequent references to the revolution of 1789, to French socialist hero Jean Jaurs and to three-times prime minister Lon Blum have buoyed voters hankering for lyricism, or a dosage of nostalgia. And there is no doubt that Mlenchon wants Le Pen to be defeated.
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