Themes from a presidential campaign

Voting in the French presidential election occurred today for citizens living outside of France. My wife voted at the French embassy here in Washington. Citizens living in France will vote tomorrow.

The French government sent a package to potential voters containing brief pamphlets from each candidate. The front page featured a picture and a slogan.

Slogans can sometimes be revealing. “Make America Great Again” and “Hope and Change” were good summations of the campaign pitches of Donald Trump and Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton’s staff is rumored still to be working on a good summation of her message.

The slogan on Marine Le Pen’s pamphlet is: “Remettre La France en ordre” (Put France back in order). Unlike Trump, to whom she is sometimes compared, Le Pen is not calling for national greatness. She just wants France to be put back in order. It’s a goal that will resonate with many. It may also be a pipedream.

The slogan of Emmanuel Macron is: “La France doit être une chance pour tous” (France must be a chance for all). In a normal election, this slogan might seem vacuous.

However, in this race, Macron’s message of inclusion draws a sharp distinction between his candidacy and Le Pen’s. At the same time it offers a nod in the direction of Le Pen’s natural constituency — disaffected voters who believe France does not provide them with a fair chance. Macron seems to be thinking ahead to a run-off against the ultra-nationalistic Le Pen.

The slogans of the next three candidates don’t strike me as very interesting, but I will present them in case someone better versed in French politics and/or political messaging can find significance.

François Fillon, the conservative candidate, says: “Une volonté pour La France” (A will for France). This may induce a few chuckles, given that he put his British wife on the French government payroll although she seems to have performed little, if any, real work.

Communist Jean-Luc Mélenchon says: “La force du Peuple” (The power of the people). A better translation might be “The dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Benoit Hamon, the hapless Socialist candidate, says “Faire battre le coeur de la France” (Make the heart of France beat). It’s beating. Is the French Socialist Party’s?

For an insight into the current French condition — one that helps explain why Le Pen and Mélenchon are poised to do significantly better than four years ago and why the two mainstream party candidates (Fillon and Hamon) are poised to do significantly worse — I recommend this article by Christopher Caldwell in City Journal.

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