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Why Obama just endorsed Emmanuel Macron for president of France

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Former President Barack Obama has endorsed his first candidate for office since leaving office — and it’s not a fellow Democrat. In fact, it’s not even an American.

“I am supporting Emmanuel Macron to lead you forward,” Obama said in English in a video addressed to the French people just days before Macron faces far-right candidate Marine Le Pen Sunday in an election that will determine the country’s next president.

Obama closes the minute-long video in French. “En Marche! Vive la France!”

The endorsement is highly, highly unusual — I can’t think of a time when a former US president explicitly endorsed a candidate in a foreign election. But it makes a lot of sense.

Macron and his brand-new En Marche party have campaigned on a post-partisan, center-left technocratic platform — there are some huge differences, but comparisons to Obama’s 2008 run are already being made in both countries. Macron leaned into the parallel, releasing a video earlier in the campaign of the two leaders chummily chatting on the phone. And indeed, Obama is popular in France — 84 percent of French voters said they had confidence in him to “do the right thing” when it came to world affairs in a 2016 Pew poll.

Most importantly, the video speaks to the ways that politics have changed in the West in the past year.

This kind of intervention by a US president in a foreign election would be almost inconceivable if it weren’t for Le Pen, who is explicitly opposed to everything that Western leaders like Obama traditionally claim to stand for — integration, tolerance, and international law. She wants to pull out of the EU, close French borders to refugees, and believes that Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea is entirely legal. (Her National Front party has literally been funded by the Russian government.)

The Front, and far-right parties like it, have risen in the polls significantly since the 2015 refugee crisis — and now represent perhaps the greatest threat to the continued existence of the liberal international order since communism. One of them taking power in a country as vital as France would undermine core institutions like the EU and NATO and create the type of dissension in the Western alliance that hasn’t been seen in decades.

The point, then, is that European elections are increasingly no longer about principally European concerns like the size of welfare states. They are about issues that affect the broader stability of Europe and the global order — which America has a huge stake in. As a result, center-left politicians like Obama feel entitled, maybe even obligated, to involve themselves.

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