Oooh la la, le pen

Debra J. Saunders

4/25/2002 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
After all the French snootiness about America's "cowboy" president, George W. Bush, after all the French horreur because U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is seeking the death penalty against the French-born Zacarias Moussaoui (the so-called 20th hijacker), after the Paris City Council named convicted Philadelphia cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal an honorary citoyen of Paris, America has her revenge. C'est delicieux. After all the French moaning about ugly Americans (and implied French superiority), French voters chose Jean-Marie Le Pen -- call him Le Racist -- as runner-up in Sunday's presidential primary. Le Pen will challenge incumbent, Jacques Chirac, who won only 20 percent of the vote in a crowded field of candidates, in the May 5 general election. How did this happen? Conservative Pat Buchanan couldn't garner even half of 1 percentage point in the 2000 U.S. election. Le Pen won 17 percent of the vote -- despite his checkered past. In 1987, Le Pen described Nazi gas chambers as "a detail of history." He befriended Iraq's Saddam Hussein. He was banned from holding public office for a year after he was found guilty and fined for punching a female Socialist deputy in 1997. Oddly, Le Pen was aided by the French left, as many on the gauche voted for Green and Commie candidates apparently in protest of Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's centrist leanings. Political analyst Dominique Moisi told The Washington Post that "the protest vote went overboard." No lie. The Trotskyite won 6.3 percent of the vote. While French talking heads had anticipated a Chirac-Jospin run-off, Jospin garnered only 16 percent of the vote. Now he says he's retiring from politics. Jospin's campaign manager, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, already announced that he will vote for Chirac, telling reporters, "Le Pen's score, for the honor of France, must be as low as possible." Polls indicate Chirac will trounce Le Pen soundly. In the meantime, Chirac has to understand that while many Le Pen voters shamefully share his racist leanings, Le Pen also may have been the desperate choice of fine French citizens with legitimate beefs. Le Pen credits his opposition to the European Union -- many French workers and voters oppose adding atop the unresponsive French bureaucracy an even less responsive European bureaucracy. Also, French foreign policy has been so supportive of Palestinians that, according to reports, Le Pen tried to appeal to frustrated Jewish voters. What's more, many French citizens were rattled when attendees of North African descent at a French soccer game held after Sept. 11 heckled "The Marseillaise," the French national anthem. Some attendees chanted Osama bin Laden's name in its place. Such demonstrations can put the public in a law-and-order mood. In fact, France has had a crack anti-terror unit for years that has worked aggressively -- and cooperatively with the United States -- to prosecute terrorist cells. Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere -- the Rudolph Giuliani of France -- - opened an inquiry into a plot against U.S. interests in France on Sept. 10 last year. The gouvernement's rhetoric, however, has seemed more critical of the United States than those who kill children and civilians on purpose. Consider Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu's protest against U.S. prosecution of Moussaoui -- which seemed more mindful of French sovereignty than the senseless killing of 3,000 people. And so the government's snooty tone caught up with Chirac and Jospin. It appears that French politicians got too snooty -- even for the French.