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Sunday, April 18, 2004

Speaking French, Right-wing Loud Mouths, and National Defense

A short piece in this week’s Talk of the Town in The New Yorker magazine reveals how presidential candidate John Kerry has been trying to distance himself from the fact that he speaks fluent French. Evidently in these Franco-reviling times, right-wing talk-show hosts feel that speaking French is somehow...I don’t know what right-wing talk-show hosts could possibly feel about Americans who speak French. They themselves probably feel threatened, inadequate, stupid, parochial, and smug all at the same time. Know-nothing, right-wing talk-show hosts are a complex breed of…something.

Most American universities require a foreign language requirement so why blame guys like John Kerry who actually passed his requirement and then some? Can someone please stand up and tell me that my investment in learning foreign languages is a bad thing. President Bush has been caught on tape attempting to speak Spanish (His Spanish is actually a lot worse than his English, if you can imagine that.) I guess the right-wingers think it is OK to speak a foreign language as long as you speak it like a severely handicapped person. This sort of critique of Kerry belongs somewhere back in the Chinese cultural revolution where intellectuals were ridiculed and forced to work as stable cleaners.

I was in Paris the day before we invaded Iraq. I listened to Jacques Chirac on French TV explain that he didn’t think Iraq was an imminent threat and that an imminent invasion wasn't justified. He wanted to let the weapons inspectors finish their job. In Hindsight he was absolutely right but try telling that to a right-wing talk-show host. Over the course of the past year I have seen, heard, and read the vilest of insults hurled at the French for opposing this war in Iraq that has turned into a shit storm—just like Chirac predicted it would.

I overheard a guy next to me in a bar tell his buddy that French people were spitting on Americans in Paris and spitting on the graves of U.S. soldiers who died fighting in France during WWII. I turned to him and told him he was absolutely full of shit (In those words, I’m no diplomat.). I asked where he heard this shit and he started back-pedaling immediately. I’ve never been spat upon while traveling in France and I’ve never had anything remotely resembling an anti-American experience. As I’ve written here before, if you’ve had an “anti-American” experience I would suggest that what you had was an anti-you experience. You are probably an asshole.

On the other hand, I have read and heard some extremely virulent anti-French rhetoric in the past year. If the shoe were on the other foot, if while in France I had read in a popular magazine--say the French equivalent to Maxim--about what a cowardly sack of bastards Americans are, I would have taken offense. If I had heard French radio hosts ridiculing their president for speaking English I would have been insulted.

If anyone thinks that it is in the best interests of the United States of America for our president NOT to speak a language other than English I dare this person to say as much. If these right-wing ideologues knew anything about national defense—and they don’t—they would know that what threatens our security more than anything is our lack of qualified linguists in the intelligence services (Yes, we even need French linguists). Right-wing heckling of people who speak a language other than English is detrimental to the security of our nation.


Seems odd that a political strategy derived from grade school taunting could be so effective, but why would the Republicans abandon it now since it's been so effective for them?

It's all a bunch of coded shorthand that lets know-nothings feel as though they're in the know. Terms like "Liberal Media," "Teddy Kennedy," "Tax and Spend," "Tough on Crime," "Weak on Defense" and, of course, "France" are non-thought signifiers that serve to warn others that though the speaker's mouth is moving, the brain is turned off.

kevin m.

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