After Peter King, the "Idiot of the week" award goes to another politician who distinguished himself through bigoted comments about ethnic and religious minorities.
There is something about the position of interior minister that makes people say stupid things. Mr Guéant's predecessor, Brice Hortefeux, was famously caught saying about Arab people that "it's ok when there is only one but when there are to many of them, it creates problems". This week, Mr Guéant kept the tradition alive by declaring during a radio interview that "because of unbridled immigration, French people don't feel at home anymore".
I can't believe it's not FN!
The statement in itself is stupid but not scandalous. What is truly troubling is that this was no blunder, it was a deliberate attempt to counter the recent rise of Marine Le Pen's Front National party. This week, I participated in a weekly radio show about politics organized by the student radio of my business school. During the talk show, I argued that the reason behind the FN's rise was simple: it is no longer a fringe party.
In normal times, what differentiates the FN (and other extremist parties) from mainstream political organization is that the former practices a very crude and un-evolved form of politics. Its appeal relies (amongst others) on fear, anger and an idealization of the past. Mainstream parties, on the other hand, propose practical and realistic solutions to the problems of the time. However today, this distinction is blurred because nobody in the French political sphere seems to have the slightest connection to reality. Sarkozy's UMP adopts a strategy of putting somewhat peripheral and populist issues such as secularism, the burqa and polygamy at the center of the debate. On the other side of the spectrum, the Socialist Party is absorbed in internal power struggles and is incapable of formulating any sensible proposition beyond ludicrous plans to increase the number public servants by 300 000 and bring the minimum wage to 1 500€ per month. So what is basically happening is that we are all playing the same game than the FN: populist politics based on fear and supported by completely unrealistic propositions.
In such an environment, it's kind of hard to marginalize the FN and confine it to the fringes of the political debate. What's sad is that recent opinion polls could have acted as a wake up call and pushed the UMP towards behaving more like the sophisticated grown ups that they claim to be. Instead, Guéant is simply further legitimizing the FN's stance by making it mainstream. After all, if the UMP becomes a watered down version of the FN, why not simply vote for the real thing?