Recipe for Ephemeral Victory: Who the real winners were in the second debate

By Marine Carbonnel

The second debate was delectably entertaining. Gather eleven candidates, generously pour Euroscepticism, mix in populism, beat the Establishment until stiff, sprinkle some basic economic notions to complement more technical numbers, add a pinch of insolence and top off with punchlines, and you have made yourself an exquisite and complex amuse-bouche.

For the first time yesterday, all the candidates, “grands” and “petits”, were gathered and put on the same level. Fillon, Mélenchon, Lassalle, Arthaud, Le Pen, Hamon, Cheminade, Poutou, Macron, Dupont-Aignan and Asselineau all faced the journalists Elkrief and Ferrari with a strong stance for more than three hours. The diversity they represented was refreshing, most notably through Poutou and Lassalle. Akin to the other “petits candidats”, they seized the opportunity to add the saliency of their issues to the political balance. Whether or not you knew these candidates prior to the debate, by 10pm, you would have a good idea of who they are and what they defend. By 11pm, you would have been able to finish their sentences. Cheminade? The financial markets! Arthaud? The evil “patronat”! Dupont-Aignan? Sovereignty! Asselineau? Frexit, NATO, Article 50!

Impinging on Le Pen’s working class electorate, the “petits candidats” accurately pinpointed the difficulties the French are facing. They presented on the television show that which we overhear in the local bars-tabac. Unemployment, burnouts, difficulty of labour, unethical politics, a confused and unconvinced perspective on the European Union, the tension between the elite and the people… And yet if these problems may be evoked by the main candidates, the sincerity of these “petits candidats” shone. The secret ingredients of their strength are simple: experience as a factory worker (Poutou), direct contact with agriculture (Lassalle) and labour (Arthaud), lack of self-interest… They seemed particularly free: free from party strategies, free from the political game, free from stonewalling. Overcoming what Mélenchon had called “pudeur de gazelles” (“gazelles’ prudishness”) in the first debate, Poutou explicitly denounced Fillon and Le Pen’s judiciary affairs. Without Angot’s deplorable and irrational fury, Poutou simply said what the public opinion believes, and what Mélenchon, Macron and Hamon fear to voice as they are concerned about diminishing their stature.

The presence of “petits candidats” may have arguably lowered the complexity of the debate, but they epitomize democracy. They have taken down the main candidates from their pedestal and challenged their programs through pragmatic eyes. Witnessing Le Pen becoming more European than ever to contrast with the Eurosceptic majority had a particular taste that was not displeasing. Underlaying the fight for the time to speak waged by the “petits candidats” was the struggle for democracy that the French are currently sensing.

If the recipe was to be reproduced, the number of ingredients would not need to be changed, as of yet. This amuse-bouche was satisfactory and has tantalised our palate for the main course.

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