France, Louisiana to the United States: “Been There, Done That”

Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front

At least once every decade, somewhere in this world, there is an election between a scandal-plagued liberal and an equally scandal-plagued conservative.  There are two noteworthy case studies in which the circumstances were eerily identical, as were the outcomes.  You’d think we would have learned something from them, but yet, here we are, in the exact same spot we’ve been.

Louisiana has their gubernatorial elections in off-years.  The 1991 election would determine who would go to the governor’s mansion in 1992.  Buddy Roemer was the incumbent governor; he was a Democrat-turned-Republican former U.S. Representative who defeated then-incumbent governor Edwin Edwards in the 1987 election.  Though elected as a Democrat, he switched parties a few months prior to his re-election campaign.

Though Roemer had been modestly popular at the start of his tenure, public opinion eventually soured.  Some say that his approval ratings dropped after he vetoed an anti-abortion bill, alienating much of his socially conservative base.  But one of the primary reasons was due to his continued attacks on Marine Shale, a company which Roemer’s administration identified as a main source of environmental pollution within the state.  The company’s owner launched an all-out media campaign against Roemer.

Not helping was the fact that Louisiana has a jungle primary that allows anybody, regardless of political affiliation, to run for office.  If nobody wins more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters move on to a runoff election, forcing people to choose between one of two candidates and effectively establishing a winner with more than 50% of the vote.  In 1991, former Democratic governor Edwin Edwards sought a rematch against Roemer.  Also running was Republican David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.  Duke was a two-term state representative with an energetic base.  In the jungle primary, Edwards placed first with 34% of the vote.  Shockingly, Duke defeated Roemer, and placed second with 32% of the vote.  A runoff would occur between Edwards and Duke within a matter of weeks.

Local media often joked that the only way Edwards would win again in Louisiana was if he ran against Hitler.  These premonitions proved to be prophetic.  The Republican establishment repudiated Duke for his stances, and received no help from the national Republican Party.  Edwards was no saint, either.  He had been put on trial during his third term for fraud and racketeering charges of which he was eventually convicted. Voters were faced with a dilemma: choose between an embattled former governor or a state representative with a history of racism and bigotry.  “Vote the lizard, not the Wizard” became a infamous bumper sticker, reflecting the mood of the election.  Edwards vowed to serve only one term in response.

In the runoff campaign, Edwards defeated Duke in a landslide with Edwards receiving 61% of the vote, paralleling his earlier victories in 1975 and 1983.  In this instance, voters had to choose between the lesser of two evils.  Though Edwards was ridden with scandal, the voters had to make a choice with the whole world watching.

Nearly 10 years later, in 2002, voters in France experienced a similar predicament.  It wasn’t for a governor or a legislator people were voting for, but rather the President of France.  France, like the United States, had two major parties at the federal level:  the center-left Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party) and the center-right Rassemblement pour la Republique (Rally for the Republic, later known as Les Republicains).  France’s electoral system was set up similarly to Louisiana’s:  each party presented a nominee who would run in the general election.  Should no candidate receive 50% of the vote or more, the top two candidates would move on to a runoff.

Many expected the runoff to be between incumbent Jacques Chirac, the nominee of the Rally for the Republic and former Mayor of Paris, and Lionel Jospin, leader of the Socialist Party.  However, numerous smaller leftist parties entered the race, hoping to boost name recognition.  Though all had pledged to back Jospin in the runoff, and unbeknownst to Jospin, they had a larger-than-normal support.

Additionally, perennial National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen ran an ambitious campaign.  He positioned himself in-line with French nationalism and social conservatism.  He was against immigration, especially in cases involving Muslims and people of Jewish religious affiliation.  Le Pen polled surprisingly high, further worrying Jospin’s campaign.

The first round of voting proved to be truly shocking for the nation.  Chirac placed first, with Le Pen slightly edging out Jospin.  The minor leftist parties had eked away enough votes to cost Jospin a chance at the runoff.  People took to the streets with a strong message.

“21 Avril.  J’ai mal au coeur.”  April 21.  My heart is sick.  Demonstrators took to the streets immediately after the election.  One estimate had nearly 1.3 million people marching in the street against Le Pen.

In the runoff, voters again had to make a difficult decision.  Would they vote for Le Pen, the nominee of a party that supported antisemitism, racism, and bigotry?  Or would they vote for Chirac, the man though, unpopular and embattled in scandals from his days as Paris’ mayor, would act as a placeholder until the next election?

The result was one of the most lopsided elections in French history.  Chirac won 82% of the vote.  He was successful in trying to convince those from the other side of the aisle to vote for him because the stakes were simply too high.

Isn’t it funny how history repeats itself, as if we never learned from earlier mistakes?  Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have proven to be two of the most flawed nominees in the history of either party. Both of them are laced with scandal after scandal after scandal.  If you’ve read earlier posts, you know where I stand.  You know my basis of reasoning.  Unlike France and Louisiana, you have at most one chance to vote for president.  I’m not going to tell you who you can or cannot vote for.  That is for you to decide.  What I am going to tell you is vote with your consciousness, not your complacency.  If you are satisfied with where a candidate stands on a broad range of issues and not just one single issue, that is your prerogative.  If you want to truly vote your beliefs and go for someone of a third party, go right ahead.  But don’t, and I repeat, DON’T, stay home and not vote and act like your vote does not count.

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