Real Americans don't speak French

2012-01-20 11:45

Washington - Here we go again.

It's an American election year which means a season to bash France, Europe and China as well as drawing attention to un-American skills by presidential hopefuls. Such as speaking in foreign tongues.

Mastering foreign languages is considered an asset in most parts of the world but clearly not in the United States, a fact highlighted by attack ads in the race for the nomination of a Republican candidate to run against President Barack Obama next November.

One television clip mocked Mitt Romney, the present front runner, for speaking French. Another featured Jon Huntsman, who dropped out of the contest this week, and suggested that his fluency in Mandarin mean that he subscribed to Chinese rather than American values.

Attempts to exploit ignorance, prejudice and xenophobia are nothing new in American election campaigns but even by their standards, the Huntsman ad stood out.

Created by supporters of rival candidate Ron Paul, the 72-second ad is entitled The Manchurian Candidate, after a novel (and movie) about the son of a prominent political family who is brainwashed by Communists.

Anti-French sentiment

The attack on Romney harked back to the presidential elections of 2004, when Republicans portrayed Democratic contender John Kerry as an out-of-touch elitist who not only spoke French fluently but also looked French.

In an oft-repeated description, coined by a Wall Street Journal commentator, Kerry was called "a haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Democrat".

Romney is a former Massachusetts governor. So far, no-one has accused him of looking French but the ad notes that "just like John Kerry, he speaks French".

Both in the 2004 campaign and now, Republicans stirred anti-French resentment, though for different reasons. Eight years ago, it was about the French government's refusal to back the US war on Iraq. Now, both France and Europe have become dirty words in the Republican dictionary because they are portrayed as a socialist threat to the global economy.

Europe-bashing is part of the stump speech of every candidate for the Republican nomination. Romney is the most consistent basher, perhaps to make up for the perceived stain of speaking French and having lived in France as an unsuccessful missionary for the Mormon church.

European inspiration

He misses few opportunities for warning that President Obama wants to turn the United States into a "European-style welfare state". That would, in his words, "poison the very spirit of America".

Obama, according to Romney, "takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe and has a European social Democratic vision". Ron Paul takes the idea a step further: He wants to pull out US troops stationed in Germany in order to stop "subsidising" a "socialist" country. Republican stump speeches combine to a portrait of Europe as a collection of enterprise-stifling losers.

This is seeing Europe through a severely distorted lens, notwithstanding the European Union's current sovereign debt crisis and prolonged political problems to solve it.

Europe-bashers fail to mention that Europe is home to more of the world's largest companies than the United States (179 to 140) and ranks higher on important quality-of-life indexes than the United States, from income inequality and access to healthcare to life expectancy, infant mortality and poverty levels.

(Last October, the Bertelsmann Foundation, a German think tank, published a study that examined such indicators in 31 of the 34 countries of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It ranked the United States 23rd in providing healthcare and 20th on access to education.)

Pointing out such data is not fashionable at a time when America's persistent high unemployment makes it tempting to look for scapegoats, foreign and domestic. But there are exceptions.

German example

Nicholas Kristof, the liberal New York Times columnist, wrote from Paris this week that "the basic notion of Europe as a failure is a dangerous misconception". And in Washington, Elisabeth Jacobs, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, a respected think tank, even held out Germany as an example Americans might do well to study and follow.

The global recession, she wrote in a paper on Maintaining Employment in a Difficult Economy, had much less drastic effects on Germany workers than on American workers.

A key reason: Labour market policies that encourage business to pursue long-term objectives in contrast to the traditional US focus on short-term gains. That may not be a model that best serves the US economy and American workers in competitive global markets, according to Jacobs.

Can such arguments dent the rigid views of Republican standard bearers? Unlikely. The talking points seem fixed. Romney: "I don't think Europe is working in Europe. I know it won't work here."

-    Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

  • J-Man - 2012-01-20 12:12

    You mean 'CANT' speak French...or any other foreign language...

      danamalan - 2012-01-20 12:18

      They can't even speak English, never mind a foreign language!

      Sterling - 2012-01-20 15:28

      Many people in the US speak French in Louisiana, Florida and Mass. In the case of Louisiana, these people have been there for the last three hundred years and full blood Americans.

      RE - 2012-01-20 16:17

      what do u call someone who can only speak 1 language? American....

  • Graziella - 2012-01-20 12:13

    That's what you get when you refuse to fund education and give people TVs instead..

      Haha - 2012-01-20 13:36

      Well, at least their matrics past Math and Science. "Haal eers die balk uit jou eie oog uit, dan sal jy goed kan sien om die splinter uit jou broer se oog uit te haal."

      Graziella - 2012-01-20 13:58

      The US right wing admits that they believe in US exceptionalism. But that exceptionalism does not exist, it is a spectacle, a facade. We on the other hand are very modest.

      Jou - 2012-01-20 14:19

      Still a damn fine country to live in. Many states don't have fences around the properties in the suburban areas. Try that in South Africa and Graziella's cousins will come and cart your house away with you still in your bed.

      Graziella - 2012-01-20 14:38

      America is a parody of human achievement which no one wants. It is a Disneyland Empire built on smoke and mirrors.

      Jou - 2012-01-20 14:47

      Going to Disneyland in 2014 with the family. Can't wait. Was going to take Graziella along but she says she's going to be in Pakistan getting military training.

      Juan - 2012-01-20 15:45

      Now Graziella that's trange, if America made stuff no one wants, how come all the billion dollar corporations, or the fact that they still have a GDP 3x that of China? I know they might not have added as much value to the global society as let's say Iran, but come on now...

      Ask - 2012-01-20 15:49

      @Jou - Prefer your surname; I think that is more appropriate... while you are in Disneyland in 2014... this is going to happen - Graziella will go to Pakistan - not for training, but to enjoy great Pakistani curries - she will have a feast and her 'cousins' as you mentioned, will cart your house away and probably squatters will move in... if I'm you - If you go to Disneyland; will you have guts to come back... if you don't go - you will kruip elke nag in Jou V M... I call this SA Exceptionalism...

      Jou - 2012-01-22 12:12

      I will declare myself a refugee and ask for political asylum to be a Disney World citizen. Free rides forever. It's the African way to make myself another countrys responsibility.

  • John - 2012-01-20 12:29

    Typical of a nation that thinks a "fanny" is someone backside. They are so busy thinking they are the best they do not know wether they are coming or going. I have often said it a will do so again, I thought the Americans have no sense of humour but then I look at who they elect as their Presidents

      Juan - 2012-01-20 15:52

      Oh John they are ok. Sadly I see more of Americans than I see of my wife or kids, but they are ok, just like you or me, even though they speak with a twang and they call some things by different names.

      George - 2012-01-23 07:47

      Yeah John and you have Zuma, now whos the comedian??

  • John - 2012-01-20 12:49

    They should demolish the Statue of Liberty which was donated to them by the French government!..They don't deserve it!..Most of them don't even know that anyway!

  • Jan - 2012-01-20 13:02

    In my opinion, the four biggest contributions the USA made to the world: 1. A short term focus in businesses - linked to greed 2. The economic crash - and ongoing economic crisis 3. Leading the world wide dumbing down of people 4. Wars

      Selma - 2012-01-20 13:15

      Coca-Cola Microsoft Apple NASA

      Graziella - 2012-01-20 13:32

      The feminist movement Porn Industry Political correctness The dumbing down of culture Fast food Ambulance chasers and litigators The credit crunch Pointless wars in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan,etc.

      George - 2012-01-23 07:47

      Come on dude you forgot obesity

  • Alfred - 2012-01-20 13:21

    The stupidity of the average american scares me. You have to be a total moron to be proud of ignorance and stupidity. When the citizens of a nation select ignorance and stupidity as a criteria for leadership, democracy is no longer viable. No wonder most americans reject anthropic global warming, evolution and science in general. These are the people that voted for Bush. They are too stupid to recognize their own hypocrisy. American stupidity, love of violence and extreme greed are the biggest threats facing humanity today.

      Graziella - 2012-01-20 13:34

      Greed is Good, or is it God?

  • allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-01-20 14:53

    Lot of American hate - firstly the sheer fact that everyone knows so much about America and so very little about other nations is interesting in itself. The judgement bais is quite astounding considering the high level of expectation from them and the very low expectations of everyone else.Turn the mirror on yourself and to them the collective South African is a illiterate, violent, aids infected ,sexual predator .For such a 'stupid' nation they seem to be doing alright, far better than anyone else considering. Their contributions are not even arguable (personal comuter,internet,email,LEDs ) and dwarf most other countries. Like other places they have a few contraversial politicians .

  • mundu.olewega - 2012-01-20 19:30

    Americans can be ignorant, but about the French...maybe not. As Gen. Patton said "I'd rather have the Germans in front of me than the French behind me. Today Sarkozi said he was considering withdrawing his soldiers from Afganistan because 4 of them were killed. Its no wonder the Germans defeated them in 3 days during WW2 and that was only because it was raining. Would have taken a day if it were dry.

  • pages:
  • 1