Cohen and Krugman

In “Macron and the Defense of the Republic” Mr. Cohen says Le Pen would usher France into the mire. Her rebranding is a sham and the National Front still a racist party.  Prof. Krugman asks “What’s the Matter With Europe?” He says Le Pen must be beaten, but then what?  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

After a French police officer, Xavier Jugelé, was killed in Paris last month, a service was held at Paris police headquarters. His grief-stricken civil partner, Etienne Cardiles, described their love and, addressing the murderer, said, “You will not have my hatred.”

It was a statement consistent with the resolute, dignified response of France to the terrorism that has struck it in recent years. The Republic, tested more than the United States of late, has not succumbed to fear or fanaticism. It has held the line and so has reinforced, in a time of indignities, the dignity of the French state.

France faces a choice between many things Sunday as it votes to elect either the rightist Marine Le Pen or the centrist Emmanuel Macron as president, but the most fundamental issue is whether to uphold or abandon the values of the Republic, whether to hold the high ground or descend into the mire.

The French state is the most animate of inanimate things. It breathes. Absent religion in any official form, absent the monarchy, the state is what the French have to represent the high ideals and aspirations that, as descendants of the Revolution, they must somehow embody. The question before the French now is whether to stain or sustain that body.

If Le Pen were elected, a shadow would fall across France and Europe.

Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, forged the National Front in a racist, anti-Semitic image befitting the descendants of Vichy, the lap-dog French government that did the Nazis’ bidding. He dismissed the Holocaust as a “detail” of history and called the Nazi occupation “not particularly inhumane.” Immigrants from North Africa were no better than scum. She has worked hard to excise, or camouflage, all that.

Election posters refer to her only as “Marine”; there’s no mention of the party; and she’s attempted to supplant xenophobic fanaticism with a nationalism that argues against immigration — particularly Muslim immigration — on security and economic grounds.

The makeover, combined with Le Pen’s political agility and down-to-earth affability, has been effective. Whereas her father got 18 percent of the vote in the 2002 runoff, she will almost certainly get more than double that. She could even, if the blow-up-the-system far left becomes her enabler through massive abstention, edge out Macron.

That is unlikely. Polls show Macron, the young upstart of this election, with a clear lead. But it is not impossible. Marine Le Pen’s National Front has joined the mainstream.

The factors that have contributed to her rise will be familiar to Americans who thought Donald Trump was a joke, then an unlikely contender, and at last discovered he had become their president. They include rage against the establishment; a conviction that globalization is a rigged system for the wealthy; exasperation at impunity for the financial engineers of the 2008 meltdown and the euro crisis; the cultural and economic chasm between wired metropolis and dystopian periphery; growing inequality; and hollowed-out industrial heartlands.

Something is happening. We don’t know what it is. Le Pen is the voice of that something.

She is also the mouthpiece, still, of a racist and Muslim-hating party; a fierce opponent of the European Union that ushered the continent from its darkest hours; a fully fledged member of the rising nationalist-autocratic club with its branches in Moscow, Ankara and Washington; and a proponent of a France-first nationalism whose endpoint, as former President François Mitterrand observed, is war.

Her party makeover is a sham. She still denies French responsibility for sending 76,000 Jews to their deaths during World War II; she still does business with Holocaust deniers; she and her entourage still traffic in the vilification of Islam; and she still strains for some whiff of Gaullism that would dispel the stench of Vichy.

In short, the choice Sunday is clear. Emmanuel Todd, a prominent left-wing intellectual, has said he will abstain “with joy.” Some leftist supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who received almost 20 percent of the vote in the first round, have attempted to equate Macron the capitalist and ex-banker with Le Pen the racist xenophobe as equal examples of iniquity. That does not fly. It is a form of moral and intellectual dishonesty.

The French left should examine its conscience carefully before any decision to abstain, or risk abetting the descendants of the rightists and Fascists who opposed the Popular Front of Léon Blum. In 1936, Blum became the first Jew and the first Socialist to be French prime minister but, indicted by the Vichy government, he was later imprisoned at Buchenwald.

Macron is an unknown quantity. Nobody is sure what he has in his gut. But he has shown courage, especially in his support of the European Union and his resistance to disparaging caricatures of refugees, and he is determined to revitalize a stagnant France. In this moment, he is the best hope for France, for Europe and for civility.

What French voters can say on Sunday is: “You will not have my hatred.” I believe they will. And if they do, the world should thank them.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Sunday France will hold its presidential runoff. Most observers expect Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, to defeat Marine Le Pen, the white nationalist — please, let’s stop dignifying this stuff by calling it “populism.” And I’m pretty sure that Times rules allow me to state directly that I very much hope the conventional wisdom is right. A Le Pen victory would be a disaster for Europe and the world.

Yet I also think it’s fair to ask a couple of questions about what’s going on. First, how did things get to this point? Second, would a Le Pen defeat be anything more than a temporary reprieve from the ongoing European crisis?

Some background: Like everyone on this side of the Atlantic, I can’t help seeing France in part through Trump-colored glasses. But it’s important to realize that the parallels between French and American politics exist despite big differences in underlying economic and social trends.

To begin, while France gets an amazing amount of bad press — much of it coming from ideologues who insist that generous welfare states must have disastrous effects — it’s actually a fairly successful economy. Believe it or not, French adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) are substantially more likely than their U.S. counterparts to be gainfully employed.

They’re also just about equally productive. It’s true that the French over all produce about a quarter less per person then we do — but that’s mainly because they take more vacations and retire younger, which are not obviously terrible things.

And while France, like almost everyone, has seen a gradual decline in manufacturing jobs, it never experienced anything quite like the “China shock” that sent U.S. manufacturing employment off a cliff in the early 2000s.

Meanwhile, against the background of this not-great-but-not-terrible economy, France offers a social safety net beyond the wildest dreams of U.S. progressives: guaranteed high-quality health care for all, generous paid leave for new parents, universal pre-K, and much more.

Last but not least, France — perhaps because of these policy differences, perhaps for other reasons — isn’t experiencing anything comparable to the social collapse that seems to be afflicting much of white America. Yes, France has big social problems; who doesn’t? But it shows little sign of the surge in “deaths of despair” — mortality from drugs, alcohol and suicide — that Anne Case and Angus Deaton have shown to be taking place in the U.S. white working class.

In short, France is hardly a utopia, but by most standards it is offering its citizens a fairly decent life. So why are so many willing to vote for — again, let’s not use euphemisms — a racist extremist?

There are, no doubt, multiple reasons, especially cultural anxiety over Islamic immigrants. But it seems clear that votes for Le Pen will in part be votes of protest against what are perceived as the highhanded, out-of-touch officials running the European Union. And that perception unfortunately has an element of truth.

Those of us who watched European institutions deal with the debt crisis that began in Greece and spread across much of Europe were shocked at the combination of callousness and arrogance that prevailed throughout.

Even though Brussels and Berlin were wrong again and again about the economics — even though the austerity they imposed was every bit as economically disastrous as critics warned — they continued to act as if they knew all the answers, that any suffering along the way was, in effect, necessary punishment for past sins.

Politically, Eurocrats got away with this behavior because small nations were easy to bully, too terrified of being cut off from euro financing to stand up to unreasonable demands. But Europe’s elite will be making a terrible mistake if it believes it can behave the same way to bigger players.

Indeed, there are already intimations of disaster in the negotiations now taking place between the European Union and Britain.

I wish Britons hadn’t voted for Brexit, which will make Europe weaker and their own country poorer. But E.U. officials are sounding more and more like a jilted spouse determined to extract maximum damages in a divorce settlement. And this is just plain insane. Like it or not, Europe will have to live with post-Brexit Britain, and Greece-style bullying just isn’t going to work on a nation as big, rich and proud as the U.K.

Which brings me back to the French election. We should be terrified at the possibility of a Le Pen victory. But we should also be worried that a Macron victory will be taken by Brussels and Berlin to mean that Brexit was an aberration, that European voters can always be intimidated into going along with what their betters say is necessary.

So let’s be clear: Even if the worst is avoided this Sunday, all the European elite will get is a time-limited chance to mend its ways.

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