The Symbolic Value of Emmanuel Macron’s Victory

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Last night Emmanuel Macron was elected to the presidency of France in a sweeping victory. Defeating right-wing hardliner Marine Le Pen by a margin of 66% to 34%, Macron’s message of unity and cohesion carried sway with a commanding majority of French voters. 

As an inveterate news junkie, I have now read every English-language opinion piece written since last night and have come to the conclusion that the news media are too jaded to celebrate this victory, too wary of obstructionism and political gridlock to give Macron the credit he and his campaign deserve. While I recognize that the growing prominence of Le Pen’s pseudo-supremacist Front National is cause for alarm and that Macron is not going to have an easy five years in the Palais de l’Elysee, his victory is still cause for celebration among sober moderates.

Perhaps that’s why the jubilance has been restrained… leave it to sober moderates to downplay a significant win.

Macron’s win is significant for many reasons but primary among them – at least in my estimation – is that he now stands as proof that a majority of voters can put aside differences and make a moderate choice. The margin of his victory yesterday makes the slimness of his lead in the first round of elections easy to forget, but in April when the French first went to the polls, Macron garnered only 24% of the vote, compared to Le Pen’s 21%. Two other candidates, initial favorite and republican Francois Fillion and socialist Jean-Luc Melanchon, split 40% of the remaining vote with niche candidates, notably far-left Benoit Hamon, breaking down the remainder.

This was no sure thing.

The field of candidates represented diverse interest spanning from classic conservative republicanism to anti-austerity measures to what some called “radical socialism” and a proposed 32-hour work week. The French political interest is diverse and impassioned, with many options on either side of the spectrum.  As former President Charles de Gaulle famously observed, “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”

Well, you start by convincing a majority to elect you in the first place. And for a centrist, the exact kind of bland policy-maker so crushingly rejected by the American electorate in November, this is no mean feat.

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