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French Regional Elections: The 'Crazy' Is Everywhere

Nicolas Sarkozy, former French President and current head of the conservative "Les Republicains" party, casts his ballot in t
Nicolas Sarkozy, former French President and current head of the conservative "Les Republicains" party, casts his ballot in the second-round regional elections in Paris, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015. Marine Le Pen's anti-immigration National Front was the frontrunner heading into the decisive second round of French regional elections Sunday, and now it's up to voters whether to hand the once-pariah party an unprecedented political victory. (Philippe Wojazer/Pool Photo via AP)

The "crazy" is everywhere. The question is whether, after the fear subsides, the varying political forces will return to "business as usual" as if nothing fundamental has changed in French politics.

On Friday morning on France Inter, a radio listener cleverly called out Manuel Valls, who clearly remembered the episode on Sunday. She said, in essence, that a vote for the National Front was a vote "against" the system, and that a vote for the Socialists or the other so-called Republican parties was a vote "for" it. Today, she argued, a vote for the National Front has become a vote of allegiance, a vote "against" is all that remains to put up a barrier against the others. And that is indeed what happened on Sunday. The left in its various components, and the right in its relative diversity, were able to agree and dodge disaster. Nothing so far has brought them so much together, neither the Socialists and the Republicans, nor the rest of the left.

We are very far from the National Council of the Resistance of the Liberation, far from Pierre Mendes France's government contract, far from Angela Merkel's grand coalition. But on Sunday night, in the middle, there was a cry from the heart, a shadow and a timid attempt at political reconciliation.

We can't do this to the French again. Anyone who know's Aesop's Fable of the boy who cried wolf can recognize the danger.

Center-right candidate Xavier Bertrand, his eyes raised to heaven in relief, saw the shrapnel from up close. "This will forever change my way of doing politics" he said sincerely. In the second sentence of his speech he thanked the left for having mobilized for him. That's normal, you might say. However, not everyone followed with the same alacrity.

Bruno Le Maire, who is caught up in promoting a new political generation, and in himself, failed to do so.

Nicolas Sarkozy thanked voters "regardless of their political affiliation," and while he did pronounce the word "left," he did so quietly. And if he cited "the affirmation of our identity" in the aspirations he considers to be those of the French, he was careful to use the word "immigration" as he has for for the past several weeks.

Alain Juppé made an offset statement, where a Gaullist "certain idea of ​​France," became "my idea of ​​France." Not very new or Presidential.

Manuel Valls, also relieved that his Republican bid succeeded, sketched out a call to "build together," which he's been using for several months and which was echoed on France 2 later on by Julien Dray, who was trying to defend the Anglo-Saxon, or rather German, idea of a new name for the Socialist Party.

The count of 6.8 million votes in the second round for the National Front -- an absolute record for this party -- will not fade in a sigh of relief. If we can be reassured by finding, for now, that the 50 percent threshold is still out of reach for the FN, and that a Marine Le Pen victory still seems unlikely in 2017, just look back a little. Just a few years ago, who would have bet that the FN would lead 6 out of 12 regions in the first round of regional elections? That it would be close to winning in three? And that it would only be defeated by a motley coalition of those who fear it?

We can't do this to the French again. Anyone who know's Aesop's Fable of the boy who cried wolf can recognize the danger. It's not a vote for the FN that is immoral, but some of the party's proposals, which are harmful to democracy in the 21st century. I don't think it will be enough to simply demonize it in order to eliminate it. This Sunday, all we did was put a lid on a pot of boiling water. The only important question is how to prevent that lid from falling off. After journalists told Marine Le Pen she might be deprived of the presidency, she clenched her teeth and said she would continue to infiltrate the town halls in every region and that the anger of her constituents could grow even greater.

These regional elections were the last exit on the highway leading straight to May 2017, with no other visible barometer but polls.

We should be concerned that this newly energized government might fall back asleep, that the worst practices of elected officials will persist, and that Nicolas Sarkozy's Republicans will not only continue to run but provide stepping stones to the far right by focusing solely on issues of identity, immigration, and the Christian roots of France. We should be concerned that the President of the Republic, after the tragedy of November 13, the great fear of the regional elections, and the triumph of the COP21, will return to the game in which he excels -- a gram Duflot here, a hint of macron there!

The worst that could happen would indeed be that nothing happens, and that the political class does not agree, like one of the characters in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard, that "everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same."

This post first appeared on HuffPost France. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.