Friday, 24 February 2012

The Mélenchon - Le Pen debate: From the gutter to the sewer…

Would you vote for either of these people?
The dreadful fare served up to French TV viewers yesterday evening was not worthy of its billing as a ‘political debate.’ It was abject, ugly, and it heaped discredit not only on the participants, but on French TV and political culture as a whole.

The idea of pitting France’s most reviled politician against its most boorish personality in a political debate was extremely risky from the start, and the derisory result came as no surprise. Perhaps the expectation of a debacle explains why the debate got the highest viewing figures on French TV last night.

The protagonists were extreme-right Front National leader Marine le Pen and extreme-left Front de Gauche leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon – both of whom are presidential candidates - and they were invited to debate on national TV channel France 2 during prime-time yesterday evening. The subject, of course, was their respective political platforms and election proposals.

In fact, it was a minor miracle that the debate even happened in the first place, because Le Pen had fiercely resisted France 2’s decision to pick Mélenchon to oppose her up until the last moment, citing the latter’s use of insults such as “stupid’, “barbaric”, fascist and “half-demented” to describe her. But she finally relented for reasons which still remain unclear.

Mélenchon got things underway with a politely-expressed question on abortion, whereupon Le Pen, ignoring it, turned instead to David Pujadas, the presenter, accusing him of organizing the event uniquely in order to boost viewer ratings. Whereupon she swiveled round to face Mélenchon, and accused him of insulting “the 40% of the working class who are going to vote for me.” Mélenchon tried another question, and Le Pen told Pujadas that she was not going to debate with Mélenchon. Who tartly riposted with “Well what are you doing here then! Leave!” Le Pen asked Mélénchon to apologise for calling her “half-demented” only to hear him snap back “So? You’ve still got the other half.”

This spectacle was a litany of mutual insults and petty sarcasms. “You don’t serve any purpose….and look at me when I’m talking to you” shouted Mélenchon. Le Pen, needling him, said “We’re not on the same electoral level….You’re a public insulter.” 

On it went, with Mélenchon’s face becoming contorted with sneering disdain and Le Pen completely ignoring him by pretending to organise her papers. Finally she repeated to Pujadas that she wouldn’t debate with Mélenchon, saying that seeing as his policies were delusions and that he himself was a delusion, no debate was possible. 

And that was that.

It would of course be easy to find all this amusing if only because it was so ludicrous, and indeed it was, in a way. But there was nothing funny about the level of debate. It was a parody of everything that politics should be about, and it was an insult to French politics, the presidential election, every single French voter and every single TV licence payer.

From Mélenchon’s jeering, leering snarling  and nastily aggressive tone to Le Pen’s insulting feigned indifference and her risible attempts to mock her adversary, the whole show was a contemptible travesty and a showcase for the stinking underbelly of extremist politics on both sides of the divide.

French political debate has always been marked by ill-tempered insult, but the Mélenchon-Le Pen confrontation yesterday saw it reach new lows. It slithered off the pavement and into the gutter before oozing into the drains and dripping into the stinking sewer and cesspit of ideological hatred.

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