The Ecole Polytechnique equipped Megret with the debating skills to mount powerful assaults, in later years, on favorite targets of the right -- the United Nations, the European Union, the "savage capitalism" of the global economy.
By 1979, when the 29-year-old Megret was named to the central committee of the Rally for the Republic, the main Gaullist party, he had already held several posts in the government of President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
Then in 1981, after Socialist Francois Mitterrand was elected president, the conservative establishment fell into disarray. The largest faction gathered around Rally for the Republic founder Jacques Chirac, the mayor of Paris and a relative moderate politically, in what proved to be a 14-year march to the French presidency.
A smaller group gravitated toward the far right, which had always been more congenial to the ideas of Bruno Megret.
His first step, before deserting the Rally for the Republic altogether for the National Front in 1986, was to start the controversial Republican Action Committees, dedicated to purging French school textbooks of "Marxist" influence.
It was a harbinger of culture-conscious policies that today govern France's National Front-run cities, where libraries stock extreme-right periodicals, books and political tracts chosen by party activists.
In Marignane, public schools have been ordered to drop a menu of pork-free lunches for Muslim and Jewish students.
A national survey, released this month by the Paris-based CSA zTC opinion poll, found that 70 percent of the French public endorses the participation of National Front members in the national Parliament -- so far, Gaullist-Socialist coalitions have managed to keep them out -- though 70 percent also say they consider the party racist.
According to 78 percent of the respondents, two of the key National Front issues -- clandestine immigration and crime in urban housing projects -- are the most important political problems facing the country.
They are the primary testament to Megret's vision, which rejects Le Pen's confrontational style without rejecting his principles: Le Penism in expensive suits, delivered with a reassuring voice.
Pub Date: 2/25/97