Le Pen upstages Macron in his home town

Emmanuel Macron, the frontrunner in France’s presidential election hails from Amiens in the north of France. Amiens is a beautiful city (or was when I visited 15 years ago). Amiens Cathedral is generally considered one of the five most impressive in France. It didn’t disappoint me.

But Amiens suffers from economic difficulties. For example, a troubled Whirlpool appliance factory plans to move its tumble-dryer production to Poland. More than 500 jobs are at risk.

The problem at Whirlpool is well known, yet Macron never saw fit to visit the plant during the long campaign that preceded the election’s first round. Finally, as the campaign moved to the run-off stage, he was goaded during an interview into doing so. Sort of.

Macron showed up not at the plant but at a chamber of commerce meeting facility offsite. There he met with union representatives to discuss the situation at the Whirlpool plant.

Having learned of the visit, Marine Le Pen, Macron’s opponent in the presidential race, came unannounced to the plant. Standing in the parking lot, surrounded by picketing workers, she declared:

Emmanuel Macron is with the oligarchs, with the Medef [a national employers’ association]. . .I am with the French workers.

I am here where I belong, exactly where I should be, among these workers who are resisting savage globalisation, this economic model that is shameful. I am not eating petits fours with a few representatives who actually represent no one but themselves.

When I heard that Emmanuel Macron was coming here and did not plan to meet with the workers, did not plan to come to the picket line but would shelter himself who knows where in the chamber of commerce. . .I considered that it was such a sign of contempt for the Whirlpool workers that I decided to. . .come here and see you.

After that performance, Macron had no choice but to visit the facility (his supporters and the union reps say he had always intended to). However, he received a hostile reception in the parking lot. Workers shouted “Marine Présidente!,” “Get lost!,” and “Dirty banker!”

Macron was able to salvage the situation to some degree. He invited workers to discuss matters with him behind the factory gates. The discussion occurred away from the cameras. However, his campaign broadcast it on Facebook Live and media outlets featured portions of it on the nightly news.

Who won the battle of Whirlpool? The mainstream media says it was a victory, in the end, for Macron. His calm, reasoned approach prevailed over Le Pen’s demagoguery, they say.

My sense is that the sight of Macron in a suit being jostled and jeered by workers makes him the loser regardless of his commendable, and somewhat successful, effort to engage the workers. That’s how al Jeezera (no fan of Le Pen) saw it. The French voters I’ve spoken with here in the U.S. (also not fans of Le Pen) agree.

Le Pen and Macron will debate this week in advance of the voting on Saturday. Le Pen is expected to win the debate. She’s quite good on television.

That expectation plays into Macron’s hands, of course. He need only hold his own to be declared the winner.

Even if Le Pen trounces Macron in the debate, she’s unlikely to defeat him in the election. A recent poll (by an organization called OpinionWay) showed Macron with 59 percent support. That number is lower than where it has been, but not low enough to suggest that Le Pen has much chance of winning.

But Le Pen can achieve much even in defeat. To use the American left’s term, she can be “normalized.”

Actually, I find Le Pen pretty normal for a politician — more so than Donald Trump and more so, in some ways, than Macron. For his part, Macron is more normal than Hillary Clinton. We’re talking low bars here.

The views Le Pen expresses don’t strike me as abnormal given the situation in France. My concern is that the views she holds may mirror the racist and anti-Semitic views of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

I doubt I could vote for her. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t vote for Macron.