by Ramin Mazaheri
So there I was again, on an airplane from San Francisco to New York – the “job creators’ red-eye” – and I had plenty of time to read the New York Times’ Roger Cohen cover the French presidential election in an extended Sunday Review format.
Joy of joys! Our “paper of record” has sent Cohen back to cover his old beat for the election. Get ready for some enlightening, edifying, inspirational analysis! Light to the masses from the best of the best – commence!
The title is: “France in the End of Days”. Well…Paris can be gloomy in the spring, I suppose.
Now let’s hear the case before we judge, but let’s make one thing clear: The “Anglo-balization” candidate must win, of course.
“For some time France has been a country that does not like itself.”
Well I know America does not like France – they’re pretty much the only country we can make fun of with total impunity – so I’m glad Cohen began his feature op-ed by writing something that already agrees with my assessment. A good columnist plays to his audience, after all.
But, you know, I met a French guy once and he seemed to go and on about how great French culture was, French history, French language, French food, the French countryside, the French cityside, French painting – I mean that guy loved France to pieces. He must have been an outlier….
Cohen started to write about Marine Le Pen, and at that point I started to notice my hands shaking uncontrollably.
I was about to reach for my medication, because I knew what the problem was: I was going through “Russia withdrawal”: I had been interacting with an American news media for nearly 30 seconds without any reference to Vladimir Putin! That bane of everyone’s existence! The reason for what’s wrong in the world! The cause of my childhood problems! Thankfully, I can save my pills for later because Cohen gave me my fix before his 2nd paragraph was done – tough luck Pfizer!
“President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has been meddling, would be happy.”
Ahh, we can’t have that! Never-happy Vladdy! That should be a new slogan! Hell, it’s a damned political platform as far as this patriotic American is concerned!
And just read – he has been “meddling”…in France, I assume? Or maybe Cohen means just “meddling” in general? Does Vladimir ever not “meddle” – can’t he just ever mildly “tinker” or “fiddle”?
There are other candidates in the election, apparently.
“…and an extreme leftist, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of the Unbowed France movement, whose support has surged in recent days. The left, still singing the Internationale and plotting class struggle, is in disarray.”
Seems odd that the extreme left has done well enough to have “surged” and yet is in “disarray”? The existence of such a paradox must be due to the end of days – and today is Easter, no less!
If Melenchon is an “extreme leftist”, then I wonder what’s a communist or even an anarchist? An “extreme extreme-leftist” and an “extreme extreme extreme-leftist?” This is like “postmodernism” – I don’t get any of it. Best to move on to the Times’ approved experts.
Pascal Bruckner, is the lead quote. Ah yes, I remember him: He helped convince everyone to bomb Yugoslavia. He wrote that great updating of Kipling with The Tears of the White Man, which is exactly what it sounds like. And let’s not forget The Tyranny of Guilt – I wondered why he didn’t add “White” in front of “Guilt” that time?
What’s certain is that Bruckner is not the extreme right, much less the extreme extreme-right: Marine Le Pen is!
After all, she called to abolish the CFA Franc in order to return economic independence to 14 African countries, even calling it a “hindrance to the economic development”? Such extreme right tyranny will make White Men in corporations cry tears of guilt over lost profits! Who is she, Ghadaffi, another extreme extreme rightist!
Well, let’s hear what these economic extremists have to say:
“’There is no right or left. This election is about patriotism versus globalization,’ Nicolas Bay, the secretary-general of the National Front, told me.”
You know who else goes on and on about patriotism and its corollary of national sovereignty? Must I name the evil name and risk bad spirits entering my body and requiring more medication? My therapist said it was not enough that Rachel Maddow focused on this man for 53% of her reports over a 6-week period, so I’ll be strong and say it: Putin. My therapist said Maddow needs to bump that percentage up to 80% over 12 weeks – my fingers are crossed, and my TiVo is set.
Cohen then sat down with Emmanuel Macron, who appears to be the only candidate according to many media. I love Cohen’s description of him: “Small, with glittering blue eyes…” Wow, he sounds dreamy, but manageable.
“In an interview, Macron told me: ‘Look, do you want to strengthen Europe, to have a strong reformed France, or do you just want to leave this world and return to the 19th century?’”
You had me at “reformed France”, eyes of blue!
Clearly, There Is No Alternative: more globalism or regression by three centuries. It’s not complicated! America gets this, why can’t France?
“The red state-blue state chasm, in various guises, is the core cultural condition of the West,“ wrote Cohen.
That’s reassuring: the problems with Brussels, Europe’s peculiar history, local specificities – all that is just a “guise,” and not a real difference – France is like us. Or they should be more like us but won’t accept it! Well, Macron will.
Cohen cites a poll conducted in 2014 that found that 74 percent of French workers felt they were no longer “at home”.
I’m not really sure what that means: they’re French…they’re as at home as can be? I mean, the outside world is not your living room, so c’mon – get hip to geography. But this is the existential problem, after all: Where ever you go, there you are…and, sadly, you are French. I don’t have that problem, thankfully.
“Europe used to signify stability and peace,” writes Cohen.
That is absolutely the case! What is all this anti-EU, anti-Euro nonsense I’m reading about?
Of course, there isn’t stability or peace now in Ukraine, or during the breakup of Yugoslavia, or the Cold War, or WWII, or WWI, or the period of conquering colonization, or the period of religious wars. But history books confirm that there was a day – I think it was a Tuesday – back in the year 1145 where not one country in Europe was at war.
“74 percent saw globalization as a threat (while 68 percent of managers saw it as an opportunity).”
Finally, some common sense from the bosses of the common men! There are a lot of private businesses in France, so I’m going to assume that 68% of managers equals an overall majority – stop denying democracy, Le Pen!
Polls are not always interesting.
I have this co-worker whom I can’t stand – his name is Fazlollah Bittermani. No one can pronounce that, so we just call him Lefty. He’s from…someplace west of China and not Europe. Maybe Western China. Nobody can really understand him, but he keeps talking.
We were talking about France and Lefty told me about a poll: he said that 77% of France thinks their parliamentarians are corrupt, so what kind of a democracy is that to emulate? Before I could respond, he said he knew about another poll which found that 99% of 18-34 year-olds all of France’s politicians are corrupt.
My coworkers seemed interested in this, so I quickly asked Fazlollah where he got this information and he said, “Uh….Rachel Maddow”. I told him the truth: such high numbers of dissatisfaction and popular rejection only exist in Russia. I heard murmurs of approval, but perhaps they were of doubt ?
“Fazlollah,” I shouted. “When are you going to finally change your crazy name?! It sounds like you took two totally different names and just joined to them together!”
Everybody laughed! When things are getting away from me I always just make fun of his name. Or better yet, his accent. Lefty just stalked off and went to eat that weird-colored rice stuff he always brings. Rice is supposed to be white!
Anyway, the real problem is not multicolored rice-ism, but the National Front. Cohen will get to the bottom of them – he was introduced to Florian Philippot, one of Le Pen’s top advisers
“Philippot is a slick operator. He did not have time to talk…”
What? Are you saying that Philippot turned down an interview? He deigned to not be in the world’s greatest newspaper, The New York Times?
The effrontery of the man! You don’t have time for the Times? You make time, baby! If not – you are an agent of Trump! Which makes you an agent of Putin! Upon touching down at De Gaulle Airport Roger Cohen became the most credible, the most important journalist possible: a regular columnist for the New York Times! You’re lucky we’re even covering your lousy election because we should be talking about Russia! Now where are my pills?!
Cohen attended a National Front meeting, where this appalling Philippot guy called Macron an agent of high finance. Like it was an insult or something!
“Somebody in the crowd shouted ‘Rothschild!’ and then again ‘Rothschild!’ — a reference to the bank where Macron once worked. The attempt to rid the National Front of its anti-Semitism is clearly a work in progress.”
I’ll admit: I didn’t get this. I didn’t see the link between the fact that Macron worked for the first family of international finance and anti-Semitism.
But now I do: being against the Rothschilds is bad because they are Jewish. And being against any Jew is bad, regardless of what they do personally.
No, wait…I think it’s that Rothschilds are powerful bankers, and that powerful bankers are Jews, and…wait, that’s not coming out right.
Here it is: The National Front supporters hate the Rothschilds because they are Jewish bankers; if the Rothschilds weren’t Jewish, there would be no problem…because National Front supporters love high finance like everyone else!
I have a banker friend – I have many banker friends – who said he was glad the Rothschilds are Jewish – said it was a good distraction. I didn’t get what he meant? Maybe he understood what Cohen meant, too? Anyway, forget about that poseur Philippot.
“Le Pen entered to thunderous applause in a black pantsuit. It’s easy to imagine her an everywoman telling it like it is.”
Roger has an eye for ladies’ fashions – very chic of him – but what were the men wearing? I spend big bucks on my French fashions and want to make sure I’m au courant.
The larger point is: what’s more “everywoman” than a pantsuit? Hillary couldn’t have been more salt of the earth, after all, and she popularized the pantsuit! I like to imagine Hillary in a pantsuit while being a supermarket cashier, farmer, cubicle worker, factory worker, farmer, housewife, etc.
Well, the National Front is a problem in France, but they have even bigger problems.
“Over 31 percent of gross domestic product is spent on health, unemployment and other benefits, compared to 24.6 percent in Germany. France has in effect made a structural choice for unemployment. Everyone knows this.”
What is with the French and their insistence on having a benefit which includes health? Health is not a benefit! And everyone knows the French have made a structural choice for unemployment – it’s great to be unemployed in France!
All those Mohammads and Jean-Claudes and Maries living on their 400 euros a month RSA “benefit” without working…appalling. Oh yes, they chose to be unemployed for so long! I wish I got 400 euros a month for being unemployed! Why I’d cash in my stock options and my 401k and I’d be quite happy with my 400 euros per month, splitting time between my 3 residences, I can tell you that!
What I like about Cohen is that he isn’t afraid to take on the system. That’s why he puts stuff like “the system” in quotes, because the system obviously doesn’t exist:
“Le Pen’s line of attack on Macron is clear: he is the perpetuation of Hollande, the representative of “the system” and a product of “international finance,” with all the attendant innuendo.”
Oh yes, quotes for “international finance” too – it’s like the Mafia, never admit its existence, Roger!
And the “innuendo” is clearly another anti-Semitic trope sniffed out by Cohen! Why, even the New York City WASP bankers are being victimized by this anti-Semitism! The bankers in Hong Kong and Dubai – more victims of clear anti-Semitic innuendo! When will the persecution of bankers end?!
Why are we demonizing the Jews with crazy conspiracy theories when we should be looking at Russia! Thankfully Cohen did with his very next line – thank God (Jewish or not) for honest journalism:
“This attack is pretty disgusting, which is not to say it won’t work. Russia is helping.”
Russia is helping to spread anti-Semitism! Who has Rachel Maddow’s phone number? This is her lead item from tonight until May sweeps week!
Cohen went back to Macron.
“Modernity is disruptive,” Macron declared, “and I endorse that.”
Yes! That is what the people want! Disruptions, not stability! Peace, land, bread – no! Liberty, equality, fraternity – no! Education and safety – no! Modern people prefer disruption, get with the times!
Are you unemployed? It’s simply disruptive modernity, stop whining! Are you laying on a hospital gurney in a hallway instead of being in a room? Being against disruptive modernity is your only illness – walk it off! Can’t hear me because your pension made you choose between heat and hearing aids? VOTE FOR MACRON AND DISRUPTIVE MODERNITY!!!!!
“When neoliberal economics was triumphing everywhere, we refused to adopt it,” said Macron (as Cohen gazed deeply into his glittering blue eyes.) “And now when demagogues are winning, in France pragmatism is going to win.”
This is my guy: the resistance to the triumph of neoliberal economics is the number one problem of Europe. Macron has the eyes of an angel, and the mind of an artist. Which is why Cohen then referenced the great French writer Michel Houellebecq.
Houellebecq is part of that wonderful French intellectual tradition exemplified by that great humanist the Marquis De Sade and Céline, who found Hitler’s tolerance too generous. I once read a poetry book by Houellebecq – The Art of Struggle – his vison of the world is so depressing that when I put it down I sincerely contemplated suicide. What a great artist!
This was really some great journalism right here: Not only did Cohen dare to go the Muslim suburbs, but he actually got a man to go on the record with his first and last name and then publicly turn in his criminal son:
“My son drifts around the projects selling drugs,” he says.
(I’d reprint this father’s name, but I didn’t get the quote of someone accusing someone of a crime – libel laws, and all that.)
But thank God Cohen printed that – I’m sure the police will be immediately notified and his son will be arrested shortly. This is why The New York Times is so good – they find informants, publish them, and help clean up society’s big problems. I’m sure that guy is quite happy he talked to Cohen! His wife, too! Happy Easter!
“As I leave (the 30% immigrant suburb of) Sevran, a lanky kid barges into me. “You could excuse yourself,” he says, looking for a fight. We square up; he moves off, muttering insults. Violence simmers just beneath the surface.”
More anti-Semitism? More anti-high finance sentiment? Was the kid Palestinian – they’re hungry, so they must be lanky? Who is at fault here, Cohen? Please be clearer when including the culture-defining moment of almost bumping into someone on the street. (It can never happen here.)
After this short trip to the Muslim “no-go zones”, Detective Cohen decided one arrest was enough, and he went back to interviewing the National Front.
“Another Macron stumble — the decision to go to Algiers to tell an autocrat that France should apologize for its colonial-era ‘crimes against humanity’ — caused the mayor to explode.”
Totally a stumble, Cohen is right – why should France apologize for colonial era “crimes against humanity”? I’m glad to see Cohen wasn’t bashful with those quotation marks!
Let’s recap: Right-wing author for a lead quote, right-wing writers for cultural reference, right-wing economic Macron, right-wing mayors for interviews, anti-imperialist Algerian government denigrated as “autocrats” – this is the type of American leftist journalism we desperately need! Sorry, Fox News!
“After the meeting, I am joined by two leftists who worked in education before retirement….”
Ohhh, Roger. You’re getting soft – soft like old leftists.
“Their issue is growing inequality and what they call the ‘pauperization’ of France as the welfare state and workers’ rights and salaries are gradually eroded. They wanted a ‘social Europe’; they got what they see as a Europe of ruthless capitalism.”
Pauperization, social Europe – don’t they just look wrong without the quotation marks?
Cohen was smart: He immediately cut this nonsense short by getting the restaurant owner into his discussion with these two ancient, outdated leftists stuck in the past.
“People need to know they can be fired. Otherwise all sense of responsibility is lost. You have to decide in life: Do you want to work or not?”
I say the same thing to my employees: “Do you want to work for ME or not?”
Because my thing is clear: I’m the boss, you are the slave, excuse me, the worker, excuse me that’s too class conscious, the employee.
Anyway, you can’t work for “the people” – we’re cutting government jobs anywhere possible.
So you can work for ME or not work at all, for all I care. I mean, what is this – Russia? I didn’t really mean to write that last part – it just comes out: force of habit.
Cohen gets to the heart of the matter with his final paragraph – a sad lament of a glorious aristocratic past.
“Seeking quiet, I wander into a park that was once the grounds of the chateau where Francis I made French the language of the land. The chateau, its roof sagging, its windows boarded up, is collapsing into ruin.”
Francis I and his ruined feudal-era castle…I’m getting misty. I bet Francis the First was a great man (he was “the first”, after all) but lived modestly in his castle, surrounded by his slaves, I mean his beloved employees, I mean his fellow teammates.
One thing is sure: I bet Francis the First was a wonderful job creator…if the French only listened to him.
Maybe the French will shake off their depressed laziness, avoid the end of days, and vote for Emmanuel the First, I mean Emmanuel Macron?
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.