As her popularity and credibility as a presidential candidate has grown among a rising number of French voters, National Front (FN) party honcho Marine Le Pen has seen detractors draw negative comparisons between her and extreme-right figures elsewhere in Europe—a notorious crowd including Dutch politician Geert Wilders, British National Party leader Nick Griffin, and Italian Gianfranco Fini before he shed his overt fascist trappings to gain more mainstream influence. But there’s another well-known foreign politician blazing new trails on the rightist fringe of her country’s political spectrum who Le Pen could also be measured against: American Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. Yet when asked about their similarities, Le Pen stiffens visibly and rejected resemblances to the Wasila dynamo leading the assault on the U.S. political establishment from a point that often appears beyond the border of traditional conservatism.
“I can not be compared with Madame Palin, and the National Front isn’t similar to the Tea Party,” Le Pen told TIME recently, insisting that some of the positions Tea Partiers hold are, well, more extreme than her own, “You have to be honest: we have almost nothing in common with the Tea Party. The two political systems are very different, and (Palin’s) positions reflect that.”
Think Palin should be razzed about Europe’s hardest-charging, fastest-rising extreme-rightist figuring there’s too much stigma involved in being likened to her closest American counter-part? You betcha.To be fair, however, were she aware of it, Palin herself probably wouldn’t be any more thrilled with the comparison than Le Pen. After all, Palin is sufficiently careful in maintaining her aura of respectability that she’d be careful to avoid association with someone who—as Le Pen did in December–likens Muslims whose prayers spill into the streets when mosques overflow to Nazi occupation forces. And though arguably an extremists within the American political context, Palin has never tarred mainstream Republicans and Democrats alike with identical labels of corruption and treason to the nation the way Le Pen has all members of France’s political mainstream.
Yet evident similarities exist. Both women and their parties want to seal off borders, halt immigration, and ruthlessly crack down hard on crime—including using capital punishment. They both want to protect jobs and businesses in their countries from foreign threats; champion a form of hard-edged nationalist exceptionalism that emphatically puts the interests of their own people and country above all others; and show bristling disdain for international organizations. Both also call followers to help return society to supposedly simpler, wholesome, traditional practices and values lost over time to alien influence, political malfeasance, and moral decay. Meanwhile, both have also proven masterful in using media to spread their political messages and advance their personal political ambitions. And—in a pinch—both women will cite reality-defying “facts” to support their arguments. And though their personal styles differ significantly, both women are smart and wily political animals with excellent instincts they use when laying verbal pile drivers on foes.
But there are also major differences between the two women—not least of which being the respective cultural and governmental traditions in which they blossomed. Take government. And taxes. And regulation. Le Pen points out that by pushing for “the reduction of the state to the smallest size possible”, Palin and the Tea Party clash with the FN’s priority of maintaining “a strong, protective state handling essential affairs”–one that “intervenes to regulate things in the vital interests of the French people and society when deregulation, excess and abuse occurs.” Not a program either Palin or the Koch brothers are likely to get behind anytime soon. And Le Pen’s call for aggressive economic protectionism is something the big business interests bankrolling the Tea Party’s rise would battle as a recipe for ruin in a (like it or not) globalized world.
Other differences exist as well. Take the Gawd factor. Palin makes overt religious references in laying out her political agenda and vision for America that no politician would ever venture (much less live down) in secular France. Indeed, Le Pen rigorously avoids mentioning her own faith in deference to France’s strict tradition of secularism, but does often play the religion card in citing what she calls the incompatibility between Islam (and therefore all Muslims) and “the values and principles of the French Republic that our rooted in our Christian history”. American political correctness–and sensibilities–being as they are, Le Pen’s pointed language and active ostracism of minority groups she accuses of being responsible the country’s major woes aren’t anything Palin and her Tea Party would ever dream of replicating in the U.S.
Indeed, because they are so different, attempts to pluck up any component of France’s political spectrum and replace it within the narrower and far more conservative American landscape is rather futile (as is the contrary). But despite those differences–and others of personal style and political policies–there are enough similarities between Palin and Le Pen to merit comparison. And that, when viewed from a wide angle, tends to place the American to the right of France’s new icon of its reactionary politics, who herself has only just managed to begin shedding the reputation as an extremist pariah. That may be why Le Pen ducks that association with her most likely American opposite when a likeness is suggested.
Either that, or perhaps her refusal to be compared to Palin is just Le Pen’s manner of expressing jealousy that she’s never had her own reality show, or has a kid poised to become the author of a big-selling book about dancing badly on TV.