Et tu, Marine?

Photographer: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

When Politics Becomes a Family Feud

Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.
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Could the feud that has rent the Le Pen family, the dynastic leaders of France's far right, hold a lesson for the Bushes and the Clintons, the U.S. political dynasties that also carry some burdensome family legacies?

Yesterday, the National Front's executive bureau suspended the membership of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the party in 1972 and has served as its honorary president since 2011. His daughter Marine, who now runs the show and is a candidate for the 2017 presidential election, repudiated her 86-year-old father after he defiantly doubled down on comments about the Holocaust that had gotten him and the party in hot water in the past. 

This time, the very public family feud seems genuine, and not, as writer Andre Bercoff put it in Le Figaro today, "a little arrangement between father and daughter to wash down the pill of de-demonization." In other words, Le Pen pere et fille didn't contrive the fight to make Marine more electable by allowing her to take her distance from her father and the old-school xenophobia he made the bedrock of the National Front for decades. Had this been a setup, it's unlikely he would have thundered: "I am ashamed she bears my name," or "I hope she loses as soon as possible" or "I do not recognize any connection with someone who betrays me in such a scandalous manner." 

Nonetheless, the latest drama within the National Front seems very convenient. Jean-Marie Le Pen is old. Whatever his intent, his antics could help Marine establish herself as a credible mainstream politician who puts principles above family ties and whose views are modern and compatible with those of most French voters. 

Obviously, Marine's "de-demonization" may fail if voters have doubts about her sincerity, as I do. She may display the appropriate revulsion at her father's minimization of the horror of the Nazi gas chambers as a "detail" of the history World War II, but the National Front's stock in trade remains laying blame for all of France's problems on Muslim immigrants and their French-born children. We can only hope such views are a liability when it comes to winning power in today's France. 

Even so, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton might want to see how this public airing of dirty laundry works out for Marine.

Imagine if Hillary could denounce her husband for accepting those questionable foreign donations to his foundation. Picture a televised divorce announcement: "I will no longer let you hold me back, Bill!"

Or imagine Jeb Bush, heaving a sigh and admitting that his brother had been wrong to wage war in Iraq. 

I'm not sure what the effect would be for the two candidates' electoral chances, but it would clear the air. There's no reason for political candidates bearing well-known names to take on all of their predecessors' mistakes and image problems. Not even kings, or the Le Pens, have to accept that.

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To contact the author on this story:
Leonid Bershidsky at lbershidsky@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net