October 24, 2018

France’s Macron is moderate (which is good) but young (which isn’t)


Many years ago, France was an important country. An empire, a beacon. It is now a country with rich history, inspiring food and culture, and little political significance. Our fascination with France’s election compared with, say, the level of attention we pay to elections in India is a sign of two things: One – we don’t always understand where things of real importance happen. Two – in politics, symbols matter. And France, in our own minds, is still a symbol of something. For now.


The victory of Emmanuel Macron is a good thing – and the defeat of Marine Le Pen even more so. A victory of moderation over radicalism is almost always a good thing.

On the other hand, Macron’s youth and inexperience are not a good thing. Often we are tempted to worship political youth and inexperience, when what we ought to realize is that politics is like any other profession: with age and experience comes wisdom, and with them the qualities needed for success. Not always – but very often. Obama’s youth, Justin Trudeau’s youth, and Netanyahu’s youth back in the Nineties were misleading. All of them gave a false impression of freshness and new ideas that soon proved hollow and impractical.

Let us have older, less good looking men and women to lead us. Let us have moderation, experience, humility.


Walter Russell Mead’s observation from two weeks ago, when Macron won the first round of election, still stands:

Macron has some good ideas, but there is zero evidence that a candidate without a strong party backing him, who attracted less than a quarter of the vote in a contest with a Communist nut-job, a seemingly corrupt establishmentarian, and a rightwing extremist, can impose the kinds of changes on the French that they have been fighting for years. The result only looks heartening because Euro-pessimism has grown so intense and pervasive both in Europe and in the wider world.

Don’t waste your time on the tired comparisons between France and the US (no, Trump is not Le Pen) or France and Israel (no, Netanyahu is not Le Pen). The systems of election are different, the stakes are different, the leaders are different, the problems are different. The French picked Macron over Le Pen not because they are wiser than American voters – but rather because they had an easier choice to make. Israelis vote for Netanyahu not because they don’t have a Macron – they vote Netanyahu because they can’t afford the luxury of having a political novice in office (and when they did feel they had this luxury, they always regretted it: see Netanyahu and Ehud Barak in the Nineties).


It is comical how easy it is for us to go to our old bad habit of voicing sweeping statements based on little evidence. For example (this is the Washington Post, but you can find many such examples elsewhere):

The anti-E.U. French leader Marine Le Pen’s larger-than-expected victory in her nation’s presidential election was a crushing reality check for the far-right forces who seek to overthrow Europe: Despite the victories for Brexit and Donald Trump, they are likely to be shut out of power for years.

Just consider the following false assumptions hidden in this short paragraph:

A. Trump resembles Europe’s far-right forces.

B. Having a radical candidate such as Le Pen getting to the finals and earning a third of France’s vote is a “crushing defeat.”

C. This means a “shut out of power” for years.

Let’s deal with the last two and offer a more moderate description of the same event: Le Pen achieved much by becoming a legitimate and realistic candidate for the presidency, and got the votes of a significant minority of France’s voters. There is no guarantee that she will not win the next election – nor is there any guarantee that radicalism was “shut out of power” for “years” (and besides, what does “years” mean – is it two years, five years, ten years? This is the kind of predictions that Phillip Tetlock and Dan Gardner justifiably mock at the opening pages of Superforcasting).


So now the leaders of France, Germany, and Britain – Europe’s triumvirate – do not have biological children. Not one child between these three. Of course, as a personal choice, or fate, there is nothing wrong with people choosing not to have children, or being unable to have children. But a continent without children is bound to decline – or change by absorbing children from other continents.

In other words: Europeans might be tilting against accepting more waves of non-European immigrants, but without these immigrants they will be lost.


And what about “the Jews of France”?

Most of them were relieved when Le Pen lost the election.

Some of them were disappointed because of her loss.

It is now common among Jewish liberals in Israel and the US to cheer the supposed cooperation between Jews and Muslims in France in opposing Le Pen. As if these two communities have the same goal in mind as they think about the future of France.

But the truth is that the Jews in France lose the battle either way: they lose if a radical such as Le Pen wins an election – and they also lose if the growing Muslim community is emboldened because of the outcome of the last election.