Earlier today, I was making fun of President Chirac, making his most recent speech out to be a combination of Jimmy Carter's "malaise speech" and LBJ's Great Society; he used the word malaise (which Carter didn't actually say in the speech in question) and proposed a works program for immigrant youth. I may have missed the more apt political metaphor; that of Nixon's Southern Strategy. Just replace George Wallace with Le Pen and add water.
The news over the wire today is that France's lower house passed some emergency power extensions-
The state of emergency laws, allowing local authorities to impose curfews, conduct house-to-house searches and ban public gatherings, date from the Algerian war of independence in the 1950s.
Fast forward six decades and the Algerians are at it again, this time in the blue-collar suburbs of Paris (if I could have some poetic license to equate the immigrant youth to Algerians, who make up a plurality of the youth in question). Chirac is responding as a circa late 60s reactionary like Nixon or Mayor Daley. Daley's malaprop from the convention riots of '68 about the police being there to preserve disorder comes to mind.
In the 1968 campaign and in the years to follow, Nixon ran on a law-and-order platform; that was read as being anti-black-rioting/activism to rednecks in the south and north (remember that Wallace won the Michigan Democratic primary in 1972 before getting shot) without being racist per se. Republicans proceeded to wean blue collar conservatives away from the Democratic party on both anti-communism and law-and-order issues, getting Wallace Democrats to become Regan Democrats a decade later.
What Chirac is trying to do is to keep losing support to nativist parties like the National Front of Jean Marie Le Pen; the National Front is often categorized as far-right, but they're more like combining the worst features of Ralph Nader and David Duke (Buchanan is often used here, but Le Pen's far more openly bigoted than Pitchfork Pat). By playing the law-and-order card, Chirac can crack down on the immigrants without being overtly racist.
That's about the only thing that Chirac can do. The statist economy that encourages unemployment and discourages new employment (by making it hard to fire someone) is too entrenched for Chirac to tackle; the EU constitution went down not because they thought the EU was too socialist but because it wasn't socialist enough. The French government isn't ready to expand the economy to the extent that they'd suck up all those unemployed Arab youths; to do so would most likely require retooling the economy along the dreaded Anglo-Saxon model. That would lose votes to the Socialists and other leftist groups.
They're also unlikely to go to the mat against anti-Arab discrimination, getting people to actually hire. That would mean losing votes to the National Front.
What Chirac's left with on a political basis is the Southern Strategy of Nixon; unfortunately, that's the best the French body politic can come up with. There isn't a non-ethnocentric right to challenge Chirac, and the Socialists wouldn't help matters in the immigrant suburbs much if any; they might get some make-work jobs going in that direction, but they'd have to watch their right flank if the blancs got tired of paying higher taxes to keep the Arabs happy.
What France needs is a growing economy and more tolerance of immigrants. None of the major French parties can do the former and only the Socialists have an outside shot at bringing about the latter.
It's going to get far worse before it gets better. Let's pray otherwise, but it doesn't look pretty.