PARIS -- First there was Brexit, then Donald Trump, and now it's France's turn to elect National Front leader Marine Le Pen as French president this spring and take France back from establishment elites. That's the general sentiment expressed by conservatives on this side of the Atlantic. If only it were that simple.
France remains besieged by cultural Marxism. A recent visit to Marseille, for example, left me struggling to find anything quintessentially French short of the architecture. Last week in Bobigny, a northeastern suburb of Paris with a large immigrant population, rioters smashed windows, ransacked stores and set cars on fire under the pretext of alleged police misconduct. The nation is in a perpetual state of high alert for terrorist attacks, with soldiers patrolling even suburban streets with rifles. When the French government recently announced that the base of the Eiffel Tower will soon be enclosed by a bulletproof glass wall for security purposes, it was a symbolic admission that things have changed for the worse.
There are two major issues that matter in France in this election cycle: culture and economy. Cultural Marxism is a problem in France, but so is actual Marxism. French entrepreneurs are taxed about half of their profits for social security and a health care system with poor disbursements. Salaries in France are low because little is left by the time the union mafias get their cut and the company has paid hefty taxes to the government on each salary. According to the most recent data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, France is second only to Finland in government spending as a percentage of GDP among the 35 OECD member countries
That heads haven't yet rolled here over these fiscal facts is astounding. France is in dire need of economic modernization and a true capitalist revolution. Unfortunately, when you talk about capitalism in France, it evokes in people's minds the sort of crony corporatism practiced by the establishment elites. And when you talk about revolution, you're told that the French aren't adventurers. But the French might finally be fed up with the establishment and its harm to the average citizen, including deference to European interests over national sovereignty.
"The French people have been conditioned over several decades not to be proud of their country," a French friend who supports Le Pen told me. I asked him what he figured to be the justification for that erosion. He replied, "Because to create Europe, you have to erode national pride."
The National Front scapegoats the European Union for the country's economic woes. While the EU's imposition of effective borderlessness and an economic straightjacket generates valid criticism, the French economy independent of the EU is still a socialist Matryoshka doll. Remove France from the EU, and the country still has its own economic socialism to fix.
On paper, the free-market policies of presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Francois Fillon of the French Republican Party are appealing, except for his proposal to raise the value-added tax by another 2 percent so the government can redistribute that money. (Old habits die hard, I guess.) But Fillon has sunk in the polls after allegations of payments to his wife and children totaling nearly a million euros in public funds. It's precisely such scandals that reinforce the negative feelings the French have toward capitalism.
Independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker and former minister of economy, industry and digital affairs, is hitting the right notes on economic freedom, but he supports an open-door immigration policy, and his campaign rhetoric strikes too many globalist and establishment notes.
And yes, there's a Socialist candidate in the mix as well, Benoit Hamon, but he's campaigning on giving everyone a universal income of about 750 euros a month, and he is receiving only about 15 percent support in the polls.
So it doesn't look as if there's a French presidential candidate who'll both foster true capitalism and eradicate cultural Marxism. Citizens are still going to have to choose one. Not even the choice is expressed in a straightforward manner. Short of the unlikely event that one candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote in the first round of voting, the race will go to a second round two weeks later. The outcome of the second round is largely decided by people forced to hold their noses and choose a candidate for whom they didn't cast a ballot in the first round.
Polling suggests that if the French were able, they'd take an alternative, non-establishment, free-market version of Fillon fused with Le Pen's patriotic, cultural conservatism and defense of the working class. It's too bad that neither candidate is giving them everything that they want in one package.