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Frog-bashing gets out of hand

As any reader of this blog would have realised by now, the French political establishment is viewed with varying levels of disdain. I yield to no-one in my loathing of French President Jacques Chirac, who, let us not forget, would probably be an inmate of a jail for corruption were it not for the immunity from prosecution afforded to the holder of his office.

But as proud individualist and opponent of all attempts to lump people together under a single banner, I regard attempts to attack someone for being ‘French’ no better than doing so for being, say, American. Yet the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto does precisely this regarding Democratic wannabe Commander in Chief John Kerry. His constant snipes at Kerry for being “French-looking” are bigoted nonsense.

Well Mr Taranto, I would like to point out that many of the ideals enshrined in the US Constitution, which presumably is revered by the Wall Street Journal, originated in France. Voltaire, Montesquieu, Bastiat, Condorcet, Benjamin Constant and Alexis de Toqueville, all giants of classical liberalism, were all French.

James Taranto’s “Best of the Web” column used to be a must-read for its snappy and often hilarious takes on the various media comments of the day. Alas, he seems to be little more than a cheerleader for George Bush these days. Maybe Taranto’s talents, which are considerable, could be put to better use.

32 comments to Frog-bashing gets out of hand

  • none

    Actually, I think it was Kerrys wife who described Kerry as “French Looking”, as well as sophisticated, etc. etc.

    Opinion Journal picked up on that speech by Kerrys wife,
    and has been using it consistently.

    If you take the trouble to search OpinionJournal, I expect you will find the original article.

    So, to recap, Opinion Journal is just quoting Kerrys wife.

  • While the joke is getting old, you had to be there at the start. Some anonymous administration person was quoted back in April as saying that Kerry looked French. Teresa responded in a Boston Herald article that:

    “‘They’ll probably say he’s French, he’s Jewish . . . he’s a monkey,’ Heinz Kerry said of her husband, whose Jewish roots recently became a campaign issue. ‘I just find it sad.’”

    “She added: ‘They (White House officials) probably don’t even speak French.”‘

    You wouldn’t want to let Terry down, would you?

  • Hmm… Not that I disagree with you but then: were Voltaire, Montesquieu, Bastiat, Condorcet, Benjamin Constant and Alexis de Tocqueville giants of classical liberalism because they were French or simply because they were quite a bunch of exceptional individuals? (I don’t mean ‘exceptional’ as in atypical, but as in ‘most excellent’ – although, considering the whole ‘pool’ of French thinkers, I don’t believe they constitute a leading stream anyway.)

    Let’s push it a bit further: taking in account how (like Voltaire) they came in reaction to a French regime – or at least, a way of governing – that, in essence, didn’t really change despite the Revolution, or how (like Bastiat and Constant) they were never really granted the importance they deserve and are for the most part largely forgotten or ignored in France (interestingly enough, as an exact opposite as their place in the Anglosphere) couldn’t we say that they became giants of classical liberalism despite the fact that they were French?

    It all gets to the point where I’ll ask: Is France a model of classical liberalism? Has she ever been one? Can you point at any of these fine thinkers and say: “This is (or was) the true spirit of France” ?

    Even putting aside the last 30 years, I’m far from convinced.

    Bear in mind that I’m not trying to justify Mr. Taranto’s gimmick pertaining to Mr. Kerry here (hell, even I find it a bit off the line and rather senseless in that context – No matter Mr Kerry’s cousin who turns out to be a French ecologist), nor what his amalgam implies (hell, I don’t really feel like being waved as a reason for everything Mr. Taranto do not like in Mr. Kerry) I’m just pointing at what sounds like a contradiction in your argumentation.

  • FastNed

    Perhaps you have to be an American to catch the slur.

    Many have questioned Sen, Kerry’s patriotism since his anti-Vietnam War days. Mention that he is “French Looking” are more a dig at his politics than his appearance.

    And by the way, did you know he served in Vietnam?

  • What FastNed said. Plus: it’s an inside joke. Rush Limbaugh uses ‘The French Looking’ — in alternation with ‘John F-ing’ — as a humorous epithet for Kerry. Taranto is simply slipping the wink to his readers that he — too — listens to The Great One.

    OK, not very inside, but…

    M

  • Jim Bennett

    None of my UPI columns got more adverse mail than the one in which I maintained that it was unfair to slur all, or even most of the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” But it is also a matter of far more than M. Chirac as rotten. Just as in 1940, France is a fish that is rotting from the head down, the head being the bulk of its capitualtionist intellectual and political class.

    As for the French thinkers mentioned, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Tocqueville derived their ideas on liberty from their exposure to Anglosphere institutions , although Voltaire didn’t really understand what he was seeing all that well, and the others are appreciated primarily in the Anglosphere. For a very good treatment of Montesquieu and Tocqueville, read Alan Macfarlane’s The Riddle of the Modern World, where he goes into these points in great and insightful detail. The Frogman has a very good point — where are the ideas or spirit of Montesquieu or Tocqueville to be found in France today, except for the Frogman himself, and possibly Sabine Herold?

  • jdm

    The French-looking comment is a lame joke because it’s supposed to be. It always was. It’s a verbal schtick similar to the caricatures used by political cartoonists.

    I think it’s pretty funny myself. And I am perfectly capable of distinguishing between it, Chirac, and Voltaire.

  • Euan

    Of course, this topic would have to be posted the day the former French PM and key Chirac ally was convicted of fraud and may be barred from political office for 10 years.

    Maybe there’s something in this frog-bashing after all….

  • Reid

    The insensitivity! I mean, it’s not like the French ever paint Americans with a broad brush, is it?

  • R. C. Dean

    I agree that a little of the edge has gone off of Taranto’s column in recent months, but the “French-looking” crack has both an honorable history and is a nice dig at Kerry’s capitulationist and elitist views – on nearly any topic you care to name. Plus, its only taken as an insult by people who don’t like Kerry anyway, kind of like how many Americans don’t think it is an insult to call Bush a cowboy.

    Besides, Taranto gets a get out of jail free card from me for his trope of reminding everyone that Arafat won a Nobel Peace Prize after every new Pali atrocity or Euro suck-up to the Palis.

  • Sigivald

    All giants of the “French” rationalist/radical wing of Classical Liberalism, that is, as opposed to the “English” evolved-solution/conservative wing. (Cf. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty)

    I see nothing wrong with mocking Mr. Noble Savage (Voltaire) just a little, by extension.

    Reflecting on history, France(-as-France) seems to have the amazing ability to even get Liberalism wrong, in a singularly bloody and destructive way. Perhaps the Louis are to blame? Something else? I can’t imagine what, and it’s really a damned shame, since there’s nothing generally wrong with Frenchmen in isolation, and every one mentioned was genuinely intelligent and thoughtful, even when wrong.

  • Sandy P.

    IIRC, until Kerry decided to run, he was just John Kerry. The “F” came after, think JFK.

    Unfortunately for him, the “F” doesn’t stand for Fiztgerald.

    French – F****g – both fit.

  • François G.

    He doesn’t look French to me.

    He looks like what he is — a gigolo

  • Caliban

    As much as I consider mocking someone because they’re “anything looking” to be silly, and a symptom of people’s tendency to be incapable of differentiating from groups and individuals –

    I think it’s interesting to compare the intellectual heritages of Britain and France based on the success/failure of the colonies they held. It’s always interesting to see what a parent teaches their children, and those two countries definitely characterized (fairly or not) their colonies as their intellectual children. From what I can tell, the French get colonies such as Vietnam and Algeria, while the British get places like South Africa, India, and North America. Seems to me that the places where English philosophy reigned did much better (even if they outright revolted against their colonial masters) on average than French colonial possessions. Just my two pence/francs

  • Uncle Bill

    Sigivald:

    I think it is the wine and the cheese. The wine makes them dizzy and the cheese makes them constipated.

    PS: Preview causes me problems. CrazyBrowser over IE 5.5

  • Brian Swisher

    Sigivald:

    I see nothing wrong with mocking Mr. Noble Savage (Voltaire) just a little, by extension.

    Errrr…the Noble Savage conceit came from M. Rousseau (who deserves all the mocking he can get), not M. Voltaire…

  • BigFire

    Re: Sandy P.

    Kerry’s full name is John Forbes Kerry. Yep, he’s related to Steven Forbes as well.

  • Susan

    How does one manage to “look French”? Kerry looks like any other person of North-Western European white heritage.

    Ridiculous!

  • Rich

    (Link)

    Ex-French PM guilty of corruption!

    Good lord who’d a thought it!

  • Lee

    Jonathan, there is no point to disenterring dead French people who have been a century or two and waving them around as your best argument. That only demonstrates the sad state of modern France.

  • Rats. Am definitely French and I don’t think I look anything like John Kerry. (I don’t know, many Sandy disagrees…).

    Yes, this is bigoted nonsense. On the other hand, this particular bit of WSJ prejudice represents, at best, .1% of what the French media dishes out about Americans every single day.

    So American media still has light years to go before it becomes even half as bigoted as French media.

  • Arty

    What’s so wrong with the French that pointing out that somebody looks like them is bigoted? I like French women and think they look just fine. If Taranto said that Kerry behaved like a Frenchman, well that’s different. People would think John Kerry was an arrogant, conniving, back stabber with a history of selling out his friends and surrendering to his enemies.

  • Leo

    Oooh,

    Not exactly on point, but I also detest Rousseau… Both the noble savage and “the common will.” Boy, give me Descartes any day.

    Well, to be perfectly honest, I prefer Hume and Popper, but whatever.

    And yes, It got old a long time ago, but the vietnam veteran bit thing has been mentioned more often by Kerry than by Taranto.

  • HTY

    Citing people like Montesquieu and Tocqueville merely reminds us of how contemptible France has become. How many Frenchmen today will endorse the praises of American institutions in “Democracy in America”? Are we to believe that the likes of Voltaire will endorse letting Saddam Hussein stay in power? Johnathan Pearce not only demonstrates his ignorance of the whole history of Taranto’s long-running joke, but also fails to note the philosophical similarities between both the French in general and Sen. Kerry.

  • Antoine Clarke

    No Jonathan, I will not have it!

    You must yield to me as a Chirac hater.

    I’ve known what a crook and charlatan he was since 1975.

    I am offended at the presumption that you could find “Chameleon Bonaparte” as objectionable as I do.

  • Gustave La Joie

    What?

    Jonathan will yield to no one as a hater of Jacques Chirac?

    Has he SEEN the state of my carpets when I have inadvertently switched on TV and caught sight of that cretinous, low-life, ******-*******, *****-faced, [pause to wipe spittle from screen] ****ish, ****-brained scumbag?

  • Antoine Clarke

    Alright, maybe Gustave hates him more!

  • Matthew O'Keeffe

    Johnathan:

    You make some interesting points. The historian Ralph Raico once suggested to me that we Brits are much too self-congratulatory about our contribution to classical liberalism. He went as far as suggesting that, if you dis-aggregate the English and Scottish contributions, the French contribution to classical liberalism is actually bigger than either!

    I find this latter suggestion a bit hard to swallow myself. Whatever those French giants did or did not contribute to individualism has been all but lost in the stampede of collectivist thought out of France in the last two hundred years.

    By the way, Constant was Swiss I believe.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Thanks for the comments. I guess mentioning the various giants of classical liberalism to have come from France was perhaps mixing things up too much — since they were all dead by at least 150 years ago. However, there appears among a certain type of American to be such hatred of all things French today that I thought it worth mentioning the folk I did.

    BTW, for what it is worth, I have admired much of what Taranto has done to expose the idiocy in parts of the media and political world, esp. on the Israel issue, but I think that he has allowed his Best of the Web column to become partisan to an unpleasant degree.

    Of course, the frog-bashing of Taranto and the like is nothing compared to the constant stream of anti-American bilge from France and other parts of the world. I’d just like to hope that we Samizdatans could perhaps rise above the level of schoolyard abuse.

  • bear, the (one each)

    I thought the “French-looking” thing came from Kerry’s looking like a rumpled Fernandel.

  • Hey, I can bash the old country better than the next guy but this is going to far.

    Jerry Lewis, you can make fun of. He’s American and what is left of contemporary French “humor” and satire if you remove America ? (Answer : nothing). But I draw the line at Fernandel.