Le Pen, who had described the gas chambers at Auschwitz as "a detail" of World War II, unworthy of more than "two lines" in a "1,000-page book" on the war. Le Pen, whose party relied on the support of neo-Nazis to survive. Le Pen, who once claimed that there are "clearly inequalities between the black and white races," that immigrants "will ruin, invade, overflow us, sleep with our wives, daughters and sons." Yes, Le Pen--that Jean-Marie Le Pen--had just won the French equivalent to a major party nomination.
In the runoff, Chirac stomped Le Pen with 82% of the vote--but the damage to France's reputation had been done. This year, a record number of immigrant voters took to the streets and helped generate an amazing 85% French voter turnout. Le Pen received a mere 10% of the vote, not even within striking distance of the two leading candidates.
But the primary issue in French politics, other than economic reform, remains immigration policy. Sarkozy was able to pull in support from anti-immigrant voters by promising stricter controls on immigration, while Royal preached the message of an ethnically diverse France. In current polls, Sarkozy is leading by a six to eight point margin over Royal. His shift to the right on immigration has been useful to him so far.
We are fortunate, in the United States, that we do not have a Jean-Marie Le Pen. But we do have Tom Tancredo, who has condemned the "cult of multiculturalism," who refers to 66% Latino Miami as a "Third World country," and who--in an eerie echo of one of Le Pen's more infamous statements--warned of border-crossers who "are coming here to kill you and to kill me and our families." Tancredo has demanded that black and Hispanic caucuses be abolished in Congress and, like Le Pen, seems to have no qualms about associating himself with hate groups. For his efforts, Tancredo, like Le Pen, receives unwelcome but enthusiastic endorsements from white supremacist leaders. And Tom Tancredo would like to be your next president; he is currently seeking the Republican nomination.
The difference, perhaps, is that while Le Pen was able to pull in enough of a plurality in 2002--16.8%--to squeak by to the runoffs, Tancredo isn't much more likely to capture the Republican Party nomination than I am. But he does want to run as an "issue candidate," one who will hold other Republican candidates accountable to right-wing nationalists within the party on the issues of immigration and multiculturalism. We know that Tom Tancredo, the Republican Party's answer to Jean-Marie Le Pen, will not win the nomination. But it is within Tancredo's power to create a Republican Party answer to Nicolas Sarkozy--a more acceptable candidate, in other words, who will be willing to carry forward the broad strokes of Tancredo's agenda in exchange for more support within the right-wing nationalist community.
The issue at stake is not really undocumented immigration. It is our dangerous tendency as a nation to become a "freedom fries" community, to trust only the mythical unhyphenated American, to shut our borders, to refuse to tolerate within our country communities connected by languages other than English, to disengage ourselves from both the challenges and the opportunities presented by the rest of the world. That tendency led to Woodrow Wilson's experiment with fascism, and it remains dangerous today. For the sake of our nation, we must respect American multiculturalism. To do otherwise is to reject the nation we have become--and to demand, in its place, a country that we would not recognize as our own.