A Bad Week for Mélenchon
Hearing the news of the raids on the offices of La France insoumise and the home of Jean-Luc Mélenchon last week, one might have had some sympathy for the left-wing party and its leader. Whatever the truth of the accusations of financial misconduct against Mélenchon and his campaign team, it was hard to see the timing of the raid on the same day as the announcement of Macron’s remaniement as a mere coincidence. The immediate question for Mélenchon’s left-populist movement was how it would respond. At first, it appeared possible to rally France’s discontented by presenting the raids as the corrupt majority’s unfair singling-out of a political opponent. But Mélenchon seems to have come out as the loser of this affair. His righteous rhetoric outside his office during the raid (“La République, c’est moi!“) was later belied by the revelations of an apparent affair with Sophie Chikirou, his former head of communications who received a generous salary during the campaign, and later became the controversial head of the pro-insoumis video news site Le Média. Mélenchon has since doubled down on anti-media rhetoric, against both traditional media and the left-wing but insoumis-skeptic alternative online paper Médiapart, who published the accusations of the affair with Chikirou.
Mélenchon’s behavior is frustrating precisely because the most promising aspects of La France insoumise, and left-populism in general, have been its efforts to promote citizen participation as an antidote to the corruption of contemporary democracy. The hypocrisy on display in his statements during this affair make any claims he has to represent an authentic popular democratic movement look hollow, apparently vindicating the harshest condemnations of La France insoumise’s populism as conspiratorial and demagogical. If indeed there was a Macronist plot to use the raids to discredit Mélenchon, it appears to have paid off.
Photo Credit: MathieuMD, Jean-Luc Mélenchon 2017, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.
To develop an immunity, a patient is injected with stronger and stronger doses of the virus. JLM has acted out so many times, I doubt this latest misstep (if it even is a misstep) will do much damage; he’s virtually immune to ridicule. If putting his sweetheart on the payroll will prove a negative, having the stamina to HAVE a mistress five years (I think) younger than his daughter may counterbalance that. Besides, no one has ever liked him for HIM; it has always the Alternative platform and bohemian structure of Insoumis that attracted his supporters. Perhaps populism’s secret allure is the idea that politicians (think The Donald) need to entertain as well as lead.
Did this hurt JLM? Certainly. Did it help EM? Not a bit. And if dragging politicians’ images down is the order of the day, it’s likely to hurt the latter more than the former. JLM again wins, this time by subtraction.