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The Loyal Opposition Loses Its Cool

Summary:
I had missed Jean-Luc Mélenchon's appearance on L'Emission Politique, but my blogging confrère Arun Kapil alerted me with a Facebook post. To say that Mélenchon was disagreeable would be an understatement. It has been said that he was embittered by his elimination from the presidential contest after round 1, when he had come so close. Perhaps. Or perhaps bitterness and invective have become his strategic weapons. At times he seemed to be following the playbook of Georges Marchais (Taisez-vous, Elkabbach!). At other times his model seemed to be Donald Trump, who knows how to use humor to get the crowd on his side when he lashes out at the "elite" media (as Mélenchon did in his little routine on Venezuela, with the line about the child's toy cow that says "Moo!" each time you turn it over).

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I had missed Jean-Luc Mélenchon's appearance on L'Emission Politique, but my blogging confrère Arun Kapil alerted me with a Facebook post. To say that Mélenchon was disagreeable would be an understatement. It has been said that he was embittered by his elimination from the presidential contest after round 1, when he had come so close. Perhaps. Or perhaps bitterness and invective have become his strategic weapons. At times he seemed to be following the playbook of Georges Marchais (Taisez-vous, Elkabbach!). At other times his model seemed to be Donald Trump, who knows how to use humor to get the crowd on his side when he lashes out at the "elite" media (as Mélenchon did in his little routine on Venezuela, with the line about the child's toy cow that says "Moo!" each time you turn it over). He got the laughs, but one had the feeling that the crowd remained uncomfortable even as it guffawed because the spectacle was that of a man not quite in control of his emotions.

All that was bad enough, but now we have Mélenchon on his blog attacking the journalist Léa Salamé for her ethnicity:

J’ai cru à un super débat sur les deux doctrines économiques en présence et ainsi de suite. Je ne me suis pas préoccupé de ses liens familiaux et communautaires politiques. Quand elle m’a pris à parti sur mon patrimoine de riche, moi le fils d’un postier et d’une institutrice, j’aurais pu lui en jeter de bien bonnes à la figure en matière de patrimoine et de famille. Depuis, ma naïveté fait rire mes amis mieux informés et plus vigilant que moi sur tout cela.
This from the self-appointed champion of laïcité. The claim that he was sandbagged by journalists and a network with a hidden agenda because of his naivety is hardly credible from a man who has been in politics for 40 years and who has appeared countless times on L'Emission Politique. Perhaps his model is not so much Marchais or Trump as the elder Le Pen, who knew so well how to transform clashes with journalists into proof of his anti-establishment bona fides.

None of this would matter except that Mélenchon is now by default the leader of the loyal opposition. The Socialists have absolutely disappeared from the scene (in polls they now trail the Communists). The FN is in disarray, and the Republicans are now in the process of splintering, with one faction joining the marais of soft Macronistes and the other following Laurent Wauquiez into swamps of a more feverish sort, on the fringes of civilization and not far removed from the savagery of the Frontistes.

The next elections are European parliament elections, which are generally an occasion for the electorate to vent its discontents with the incumbent government, and there is plenty of discontent with Macron. So La France Insoumise, as the only semi-organized force of any size in the field, could do well. But Mélenchon wants more than votes. He wants to head a movement, a revolutionary force, and his troops aren't responding to the trumpet. Perhaps that's the source of his frustration. Perhaps he thinks that by turning coleric he can rally the rag-tag army of vociferous lycéen(ne)s and trotskystes de troisième âge who form his base. But this latest sally at Salamé is completely out of bounds, particularly coming from someone who now leads the opposition. It's a comment one might expect from a leader of Alternative für Deutschland but not from the leader of La France Insoumise. With such an opposition, France finds itself in a parlous state.

Art Goldhammer

Arthur Goldhammer (born 1946) is an American academic and translator.
Goldhammer studied mathematics at MIT, gaining his PhD in 1973. Since 1977 he has worked as a translator. He is currently based at the Center for European Studies at Harvard.

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