The Le Pen-Macron slugfest

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, the two remaining candidates for president of France, debated last night in advance of the election to be held this weekend. I watched only a small part of the debate because (1) my lack of skill in comprehending French, when spoken quickly, prevented me from following as closely as I wanted and (2) it was frustrating viewing because the two contestants kept speaking over one another (thereby compounding my comprehension problem) and ignoring the questions they were asked.

In other words, I was missing too much, but wasn’t missing much.

A friend describes the debate as “totalement nul.” You can probably do the translation: “absolutely worthless.”

The New York Times offers this account:

The debate on Wednesday night between France’s two presidential candidates, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front and the centrist [note: a mischaracterization, in my view] former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, was more like an angry American-style television shoutfest than the reasoned discussion of issues the French have become accustomed to. It was a study in violent verbal combat: The two talked angrily over each other, cut each other off, shook fists and pointed fingers, leaving the moderators bewildered and helpless. . . .

The two candidates did not hide their disdain for each other, and their total divergence on all the issues — Europe, terrorism, France’s stagnant economy, Russia — explained why.

The high priestess of fear is sitting in front of me,” Mr. Macron said derisively, having cast his opponent as a dangerous extremist with deep ties to her party’s dark past. He made a point of repeating her name, to remind viewers of her parental filiation: her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded the National Front and is associated with its historical posture of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and stigmatization of immigrants.

You are the France of submission,” Ms. Le Pen said with scorn; Mr. Macron was merely a heartless banker, in her view. “We’ve seen the choice you’ve made, the cynical choices, that reveal the coldness of the investment banker you have never ceased being.”

(Emphasis added)

I think the Times’ description of the debate is accurate. Unfortunately, so are the descriptions of the two candidates that I have bolded.

To its credit, the Times doesn’t declare a winner. Other outlets say Macron won. However, I don’t take these assessments seriously, given their bias against Le Pen.

Macron may well have won in the sense that (1) he’s ahead in the polls and only needed to hold his own and (2) many expected Le Pen to win, so that, again, Macron needed only to hold his own.

But given the way the two candidates went about it, it’s hard to see how either candidate won this debate in the strong sense. “Totalement nul” strikes me as the best assessment.

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