The Big Lesson France's Elections Can Teach Us

On Sunday night, President Obama tried to adjust the outlook of the nation after the San Bernardino attack and reassure us that he has everything under control. Speaking from the Oval Office, a setting saved only for the most serious of addresses, he reiterated that the U.S. administration is ahead of ISIS and other possible attackers. Well, that's good. It will need to be if Democrats are to hold on to power (or at least the presidency) in 2016. Sunday's results from the first round of regional elections in France show what could happen if an attack were to strike closer to election time.

The National Front (FN), France's far-right party, received 28 percent of the vote, coming in first place nationwide for the first time and upsetting the two traditional and more centrist French parties. What does the National Front stand for? They are all for economic protectionism (controlling imports to support national industry) and completely against immigration. Does that sound familiar? Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has bashed our second-biggest trading partner China and accused Mexican immigrants of being the source of crime, drugs, and an increase in rapes. His success with Republican primary voters only goes to show that there is already a public willing to entertain these ideas.

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Combine that underlying support with the feeling of fear after a terrorist attack, and the results could be catastrophic for level-headed politicians, mostly Democrats but even centrist Republicans if an attack were to come close to a primary. Even before the news broke that the San Bernardino suspects were supporters of ISIS, The New York Times documented the fear that's spreading in the country. The paper called it the "fear of the ordinary" in a country where going to work, eating out, going to school, or visiting the cinema could end in a bloodbath.

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That feeling is what Obama tried to counter Sunday night. He didn't announce new ways to fight ISIS but reiterated that he has everything under control. But polls have shown that the public doesn't agree — some 60 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of terrorism in a poll conducted Sunday. That won't be good for Democrats if it hasn't improved by 2016.

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has called for more to be done about ISIS while being careful not to lump all Muslims in together. On Sunday, she reiterated the need to work with technology companies to block the group's uploads to social media that are used to recruit more supporters and fighters around the world. She also has spoken out for a no fly zone in Syria and for U.S. special forces to get in place in the region faster. Her time as Obama's Secretary of State has likely led her to come out as more aggressive than him, lest she be blamed for any shortcomings before the election.


In France, where the vote took place less than a month after the coordinated Paris attacks that killed 130 people, the National Front's first-place finish is remarkable seeing as the party came in fourth place in 2010's first round of voting. On Sunday the center-right Republicans, headed by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, and its allies came in second with 27 percent of the vote and the Socialists, headed by French President Francois Hollande, and its allies on the left took just 23 percent nationally. Given the differences in political systems — our two-party system makes a third parties emergence unlikely — the United States would never see quite the same results.

But since Republicans have grown more anti-immigrant, a comparison is inevitable. Obama will need to do all he can to protect future attacks and assure the people of the United States that they are safe. The Democrats' success in 2016 may depend on it.