Gonna Fly Now, the theme from Rocky, is widely recognized as an anthem for the underdog more than 40 years after the movie’s release. And appropriately so, it is some fine music from what is still one of my top 5 all-time favorite movies.
In the midst of the ongoing craziness that now defines our national politics in the U.S., a visitor from abroad last week brought a good reminder of an underdog political story that should be an inspiration for all raging moderates that there is hope yet.
That visitor would be Emmanuel Macron. A lot more Americans are probably able to name the President of France after his visit to the U.S. last week included a well-publicized state dinner at the White House. And he represents one of the great political underdog stories of the modern era.
Flash back to a little over a year ago, and the political dynamics in France had many similarities to the dynamic here in the U.S. in 2016 that ultimately led to Donald Trump being elected President.
Large segments of the French public had a sense the economy was stuck for reasons that were largely self-inflicted and that the current government was ineffective, and they had little optimism that anyone in the traditional political structure could fix it.
There was legitimate fear there that a Trump-like candidate, Marine Le Pen, would capitalize on the sense of malaise and the fact that the candidates running in the established parties were unpopular. Like Trump, she ran a highly negative campaign built around an anti-immigrant, protectionist, and anti-global platform.
And then out of seemingly nowhere came Macron, a young investment banker with little government experience who was not well-known in the larger public. He took cues from Obama’s successful 2008 campaign by building a grass roots movement that engaged young people, and he countered Le Pen with a radical centrist platform that was positive and optimistic, embraced Frances’s European and global leadership roles, and took on the country’s powerful public sector unions.
He did not see a path within the existing political parties to move the country in this new direction, so he established a new party that he called the En Marche! (On the move) movement.
Not only did he run and win on behalf of this new party, he recruited a full slate of candidates—most also political newcomers—to run for the French Parliament (the French equivalent to Congress). And that was a huge success too, with his party winning a strong majority of the seats in Parliament on the heels of Macron’s big win.
So, in a political environment with many similarities to ours, a charismatic young leader with a future-oriented platform centered around hope and optimism built a whole new party there, won over a clear majority of the voters, and now leads the governing party in France.
While he is not perfect and the jury is still out on how successful he will be in carrying out his agenda, his is an amazing story that shows that despite the polarization in our current political system, there is hope yet for the quiet majority out there in the middle if we have a leader who can sell that vision.
So America, who is our Macron?