Barack Obama has cast a hypothetical vote in the French presidential election with a last-minute endorsement of Emmanuel Macron. Macron, a centrist, faces Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National in a tight race. With voting on Sunday, Obama’s endorsement could very well be the intervention Macron needs to edge ahead of his populist opponent.
In a video tweeted by Macron on Thursday, the former US president declared his support because of the importance of this election.
“I’m not planning to get involved in many elections now that I don’t have to run for office but the French election is very important to the future of France and the values that we care so much about,” Obama stated in English with French subtitles.
The polls put Macron 20 points ahead of Le Pen, but many have likened this French election to the US election back in November, with polls and media focusing on one candidate while a populist candidate is pounding the pavement and garnering unexpected levels of support. That may be why Obama felt the need to step in, given the current political climate of the US. He said that Macron “stood for liberal values” and “put forward a vision for the important role that France plays in Europe and around the world,” adding in how he admired the way Macron “appeals to people’s hopes and not their fears.”
‘Appealing to hopes and not fears’ was an obvious reference to Le Pen, who has run a campaign capitalizing on people’s fear, racism, and a protectionist stance for France. Before leaving the White House, Obama said he would intervene in public life again when “our core values may be at stake.” Charles Kupchan, former special assistant on Europe during the Obama administration, believes Europe’s fate involved those core values. “[Former] President Obama was very concerned about the political trajectory of the European Union, particularly after the refugee crisis of 2015. He became quite seized with helping to rebuild self-confidence in liberal values and practices,” said Kupchan, now a professor at Georgetown University.
Obama flew to London in April 2016 to urge Britons to “stick together” with the EU, but his opinion failed to derail Brexit. His lack of sway during that crucial campaign does not bode well for his endorsement now, especially given recent terrorist incidents in Europe. Obama remains relatively popular in France, but his endorsement could motivate Le Pen voters who are anti-elite, anti-American or even racist to become more outspoken and passionate about beating Macron.
Though it’s highly unusual for US presidents to endorse other countries’ candidates in their elections, Obama isn’t the only one who has voiced his opinion on the French presidential contest. When a terrorist attack hit Paris just days ahead of the election’s first round, President Trump took to Twitter to predict that the attack would “have a big effect on presidential election!” He told the Associated Press that while he would not endorse any specific candidate, he believed that “whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism and whoever is the toughest at the borders will do well at the election,”--clearly citing Le Pen, who shares similar ideology as Trump and his advisers.
It only makes sense to me that Obama decided to step in, despite his previous endorsement of Hillary Clinton falling flat. Le Pen is explicitly opposed to everything leaders like Obama traditionally stand for: tolerance, integration, and international law. She has been vocal and upfront about wanting to pull out of the European Union and vowed to pull France out of NATO. One of her most popular talking points is how she plans to close French borders to refugees. Is she starting to sound like anyone we know? Wait, here’s the kicker: Le Pen believes that Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea is entirely legal. Of course, that could have something to do with the fact that her party, the National Front, has been funded by the Russian government.
The National Front, and other far-right parties, have risen in popularity since the 2015 refugee crisis. It’s disheartening, but they represent one of the greatest threats to the continued existence of equality, tolerance and liberal politics since communism. If Le Pen takes power in a country as vital as France, she and her far-right buddies have the opportunity to undermine core institutions like the EU, NATO, and cut back rights that various minorities and groups have been fighting decades for. France could be the start of dissension in Western political alliances and policies that will reshape the political climate of the world.
With so much at stake, it only makes sense that Obama felt the need to step in. Elections are no longer just about those particular citizens. European elections are no longer about European concerns like the size of welfare states. There are larger issues at play, ones that affect the broader stability of Europe and the global order- which America has a huge stake in. Obama endorsing Macron is starting to seem more like a desperate plea for France to avoid the turmoil and political strife we now hear about every day in the US.
So France, take note. Just because Le Pen may be charismatic and offer easy solutions, don’t make our mistake with our orange demagogue. Make a better choice than we did. Please.