The US presidential campaign is blowing over to the European side of the pond bringing with it a recurring theme that I can no longer ignore – the French Dis-Connection. It seems that a candidate’s ability to speak French is seen (once again) as a slimy, unpatriotic and subversive act. John Kerry got tons of negative publicity for being schooled in this romantic language back in 2004 when he lost to George W. Bush. Maybe that’s why Mitt Romney, who is really into singing his own praises at this point, is not singing a French song. He never lets France come up in the conversation. He never talks about speaking about the fact that he speaks French; likes France and even spent some time in France. I wonder why.
Even back in February of this year, during the Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich, one of the more-famous “losers”, paid for an ad calling Romney all sorts of unfavorable names, but left the best for the end with the phrase, “Romney speaks French, just like John Kerry.” The ad then flashed to John Kerry giving a speech which concludes with the French (actually, Cajun) phrase, “Laissez les bon temps rouler”, or “Let the Good Times Roll.” There’s a bit of political justice in there since Gingrich’s “good times” ended quite abruptly – in English and in French.
Parlez-Vous Francais? Mais Non!
Why would speaking a foreign language be a reason not to vote for someone? Is it any language or is it the French? And why would having a good relationship with a foreign country and appreciating its different culture and way of doing things be seen as a political handicap? I was brought up to believe that speaking foreign languages was a sign of intelligence. Do we not want an intelligent President?
I investigated a bit and found out that Mitt is refusing to speak French on camera. He is making a conscious effort to downplay the darker, “parlez-vous” side of his life. Back in the winter, he is even accusing Obama of “cozying up to Europe and ignoring American values” – another example of vagueness that tries to equate Europe with socialism, the antithesis of what America stands for. However, whether he wants to admit it or not, Mitt does have a strong, personal attachment to France. Let me tell you about it.
Mitt on a Mission
From 1966–68, Mitt Romney spent 30 months in France (that’s right, 2 and a half years!) on a proselytizing mission for the Mormon Church. This missionary assignment gave him a deferment from serving active duty in Vietnam. So, as you can see, while he was converting souls in France, France was giving him an excuse for his own military
salvation (a win-win operation). His team was responsible for 200 Mormon baptisms while he was in France – that means about nine conversions a month, not a bad track record for a 21 year old. (He probably would have converted more Frenchmen in Bordeaux if the Mormon religion allowed its members to drink red wine.)
France was important in Mitt Romney’s life – something to acknowledge and not hide from, right? Really, who cares if he speaks French or not? Some Americans dislike the French, but some actually honor them. A case in point is this year’s Golden Globe awards. The movie “The Artist” won for best film and best actor. And that’s a French movie with a French movie star – ah, but I forgot, it’s a silent movie. The actor doesn’t speak French; he doesn’t speak anything. Just like Mitt Romney