Political Animal


January 13, 2012 8:00 AM ‘The French Connection’

By Steve Benen

The short film put together by Newt Gingrich’s Super PAC is proving to be one of the bigger political stories of the week, but a new video from the Gingrich campaign itself is also likely to raise a few eyebrows.

This new spot doesn’t appear ready for broadcast — it’s a minute long, not 30 seconds, and is being billed as a “web ad” — but it could presumably be turned into a television commercial without too much trouble.

Most of the ad includes some clean hits. Viewers are reminded, for example, that Romney not only supported and donated to liberal Democrats, he even voted in a Democratic primary. It’s an issue that hasn’t come up much at all over the last several months, and one might ask Gingrich why it’s only coming up now, after Romney won Iowa and New Hampshire.

But it’s the last 10 seconds that stood out: “And just like John Kerry, [Romney] speaks French, too.”

I had a hunch this would come up eventually.

If pressed, the Gingrich campaign would probably say it’s just drawing parallels among Massachusetts politicians, connecting Romney to Kerry and Michael Dukakis.

But I don’t think we need any special insights to see the line Gingrich is pushing here. The disgraced former House Speaker, in advance of the South Carolina primary, wants Republican voters to think there’s something wrong with being bilingual, especially if the other language is French.

I have no idea if this will work, but the fact that “he speaks French” is considered a potentially potent attack in Republican politics in the 21st century is just sad.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • bignose on January 13, 2012 8:05 AM:

    Meanwhile, the rest of the republican field can barely muster up passable English.

  • c u n d gulag on January 13, 2012 8:08 AM:

    Great TITLE, Steve!

    GOP POV:

    "Let's be "Frank" here - what's happening to us Conservatives when we even think of accepting one candidate who can speak in French, and another one Mandarin?
    What's next, English?
    HELL NO!
    Why can't they all just speak good-old American!?!?"

  • DAY on January 13, 2012 8:08 AM:

    Those that can speak three languages are called trilingual
    Those that can speak two languages are called bilingual
    Those that can only speak one language are called Americans.

  • c u n d gulag on January 13, 2012 8:10 AM:


    Mitt = "Oui the people..."

  • hells littlest angel on January 13, 2012 8:10 AM:

    Gingrich is speaking to right-wingers in their own language: Dumbfuckese.

  • Mudge on January 13, 2012 8:13 AM:

    I foresee an attempt to annex Quebec. However, George Bush was oftenalleged to speak Spnaish and we know how his administrations turned out. But for me there is a critical question..can two bilinguals marry in SC?

  • johnny canuck on January 13, 2012 8:20 AM:

    And a word from your neighbour to the north. For the last 40 years it has been a virtual disqualification from serving as our Prime Minister not to be sufficiently bilingual as to be able to function in a debate in both english and french. -quality of grammar doesn't matter; but you better be able to understand the question and provide an understandable answer.
    Many civil servants are sent to french immersion courses.

    It was a recent scandal that a unilingual judge was appointed to our Supreme Court. He immediately promised that he would learn french.

    If the US was like Canada, there would be news stories about how the Obama family were learning french, and breathless anticipation for when BHO was sufficiently proficient to answer questions from Spanish speaking journalists at a press conference!

  • Eeyore on January 13, 2012 8:28 AM:

    It's also a subtle charge of flip-floppery and insincerity against Romney. In 2008, he was repeatedly accused Obama of wanting to turn America in the France! Romeny's used France as a strawperson exemplar of all things effete, weak, unmanly, and evil for years. YET HE SPEAKS THE LANGUAGE! I bet in his private moments he sips lattes wears a beret.

  • Jason on January 13, 2012 8:30 AM:

    Something I'm curious about--Gingrich has a PhD in history, and his dissertation topic was Belgian education policy in the Congo. While I've heard that the dissertation was fairly mediocre, I presume he did do some real research for it, and that makes it seem likely that Newt knows more than a little French himself. The man is really shameless, isn't he?

  • stormskies on January 13, 2012 8:31 AM:

    I have no idea if this will work, but the fact that “he speaks French” is considered a potentially potent attack in Republican politics in the 21st century is just sad.


    It's not just sad, it is also a reflection of just how utterly stupid these people are .........

  • jonas on January 13, 2012 8:32 AM:

    The irony is, Gingrich probably speaks and (definitely) reads French, too. His graduate dissertation was on the Belgian Congo. All the sources and much of the secondary literature would have been in French.

  • beejeez on January 13, 2012 8:32 AM:

    Fine lesson for U.S. kids: Don't learn French if you want a job in the 21st century. Good thing we defeated them in WWII.

  • DAY on January 13, 2012 8:33 AM:

    The Great American Moron needs to be reminded that the Founding Fathers all read both Latin and Greek.
    In the 19th C. French was the lingua franca of diplomacy, all around the globe.
    And German was the language of science.
    But, "We Number One! We Number One!"

  • Crusty the Clown on January 13, 2012 8:42 AM:

    From Bloomberg:

    [Talbert Black opined] “She’s gotten that insider disease that says you have to compromise to get along.” (in reference to SC governor Haley)

    Good grief! No wonder the GOP appears to dying a lingering death!

  • Anonymous on January 13, 2012 8:44 AM:

    In my 8:20 post i was not awake enough to correctly say:
    If the US was like Canada, there would be news stories about how the Obama family were learning SPANISH, and breathless anticipation for when BHO was sufficiently proficient to answer questions from Spanish speaking journalists at a press conference!
    All of this negative conversation about speaking french, none about speaking Spanish. Just complete silence on it.
    Does this mean progress, or that it is inconceivable that a non Hispanic American would be fluent in spanish?

  • jonas on January 13, 2012 9:05 AM:

    Whoops -- apologies to Jason @ 8:30, whose post I missed before writing mine. Made basically the same point.

  • Mudge on January 13, 2012 9:12 AM:

    In reading Jason's and Jonas' comments the thought struck me that perhaps Gingrich's thesis was so mediocre because he did not know French.

  • boatboy_srq on January 13, 2012 9:15 AM:

    If Mittens is on the hot seat for speaking French, I really pity Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins: there's a big French Canadian community in Maine and at least a passing familiarity with Quebecois is nearly a must.

    @gulag: "oui, les peuples..." isn't something a G[N]O[B]P candidate would say - it's too inclusive.

    Hmmm... Captcha = "tdrawa nonnegative". Maybe it's useful after all if it keeps out the linguistically challenged.

  • Richard Greenslade on January 13, 2012 9:15 AM:

    I am kind of enjoying the Schadenfreude of watching Republicans cause each other pain, but Newt is really off the wall. In his "documentary", he slams Romney for basically being too much of a conservative free marketeer, and now he slams him for being a moderate masquerading as a conservative.
    Newt has thus flip-flopped on his accusation of Romney's flip-flopping. Quite a feat, mais je ne comprends rien.

  • Oh yeah on January 13, 2012 9:19 AM:

    No wonder everyone hates us :(

  • Pol on January 13, 2012 9:25 AM:

    My first thought was Gingrich was reminding his followers about those finer days -- after 9/11 -- when being French was some kind of weakness. You remember -- "freedom fries" and all...

  • Celui on January 13, 2012 9:29 AM:

    My Gosh! Mon Dieu! How in the world does the American public expect this nation to manage in the world arena without multi-lingual leadership?? Language/Culture denigration is the sure kiss of death in inter-national relations. How short-sighted and xenophobic have we become?? In high school, I had five years of Latin and three of French, earned an AB in French during the middle 60s, was almost made an MP in the Air Force until some wise Sgt realized that "Them people in Nam speak French, don't they???" AF Intelligence became my destination. After, I returned to teaching French at the high school level, studied Russian (very French vocabulary because Peter the Great admired Napoleon so much), learned passable Spanish and Japanese, and retired as a language coordinator for a public school district. And, if there was one central message I could share with my students in both public and private schools it was: Learn a second (or third) language, because you never do know when you'll be called on to be knowledgeable and open-minded about another culture. By the way, 'Celui' is French for that famous McCainism launched at Obama: 'That One'! I just liked that so much/ Cela m'a tellement attiré. Assez. J'ai fini. Pour l'instant. A demain.

  • mellowjohn on January 13, 2012 9:44 AM:

    merde! (you should pardon my french.)

  • SYSPROG on January 13, 2012 9:52 AM:

    What's so 'sad' is how stupid they think the voters are! I am 'of an age' with Kerry and Gingrich...well not quite but still. When I was in school FRENCH was touted as the 'international language' and you were strongly encouraged to learn it. Now it is spanish. Please. In 50 years are they going to attack people for THAT? Fools.

  • royalblue_tom on January 13, 2012 9:58 AM:

    Now, if it was Louisiana or Missouri French, that would be different ..

  • Joe M. on January 13, 2012 10:02 AM:

    Gingrich at least reads French (he did male use of it for his dissertation). Don't know about his speaking ability.

  • Rick Herrick on January 13, 2012 10:28 AM:

    Pivoting from royalblue_tom's comment, it's interesting that the phrase Kerry is saying in the clip of him speaking French is actually a phrase more associated in American culture with the U.S. and specifically Cajun country and New Orleans: "Laissez les bon temps roulez." There's a risk that many people will think, "Wait, I know that, maybe it's not so bad after all." There are plenty more clips of Kerry actually speaking French conversationally.

    Romney's French is pretty awful, or at least his accent is.

  • Steve P on January 13, 2012 10:28 AM:

    Just before the invasion of French North Africa in November 1942, Gen. George Patton was appalled to find a missing accent grave in the propaganda leaflets to be dropped on the civilian populace. He had a squad inserting it by hand--he didn't want the French to think that they were being occupied by barbarians.
    The pussy.

    As for Gingrich's dissertation, I can't be the only one who knows the old grad school trick of citing sources in the original French work that have appeared in English translation.

  • TheOtherJim on January 13, 2012 11:48 AM:

    How many of the founding fathers spoke French? Just wondering. I don't quite get this revulsion the Repuglicans feel about the French who, last time I checked, gave us quite a bit of help in the late 1700s and later gave us this nice statue that we set up in New York harbor. Oh well. Politicians who speak French? Quelle horreur! Oh, wait: doesn't that pretty much condemn everyone in that pleasant country to the north of us?

  • Werewolf on January 13, 2012 11:49 AM:

    Fechez la vache! -Quoi? Fechez la vache! -Ah! (MOOO) (Boing) Run away! Run away!

  • Christiaan on January 13, 2012 11:54 AM:

    The only, invalid, reason that speaking French was an issue in 2004 was the fact that the Freedom Fries effect, that is the French wouldn't want to support the Iraq war. That is irrelevant now. The only thing is the appearance of being educated. But after W. I wonder whether voters, even Republicans, still think drinking a beer is more important than thinking. And it doesn't really sound convincing to say that someone is a smarty-pants speaking French and all, when you're a history professor.

  • Texas Aggie on January 13, 2012 1:43 PM:

    Wonder how this will play in Cajun country.

  • TCinLA on January 13, 2012 1:44 PM:

    Yeah, "just like John Kerry." Riiiiiight.

    Kerry learned French while he was at Yale, and it served him well when he served in combat in Vietnam, where many Vietnamese speak French which facilitated his efforts in the war, whereas Romney learned French while he was dodging the draft as a "Mormon missionary" in the country least likely to produce many converts to his phoney made-up-by-a-con-artist "religion."

    Funny how Republican never note that the leadership of the Party of Publick Piety and Patriotism, Inc. (pee-pee/pee-pee, Ink), is all made up of DRAFT DODGERS like Gingrich.

  • TCinLA on January 13, 2012 1:53 PM:

    Peter the Great admired Napoleon so much

    While I am sure Peter the Great was capable of many things, I don't think he was able to admire someone who came along 100 (or so) years later. Just sayin'...

  • T-Rex on January 13, 2012 2:05 PM:

    Well, perhaps you have to cut both Newt and Mitt some slack for learning French BEFORE 2003. That was when the French had the insulting audacity to warn us against invading Iraq and then turn out to be absolutely right on every point. For that there can be no forgiveness. And the fact that they wouldn't send their own soldiers to die in a quagmire or kill innocent people for a nonexistent cause just proves they were cowards. They let US fight a pointless war without their help!

  • burritoboy on January 13, 2012 2:18 PM:

    Ben Franklin taught himself French and Italian.
    Thomas Jefferson also knew French fluently.

    Most of the Founding Fathers knew Greek and Latin fluently. Quite a few also knew such languages as Dutch or German, and a handful had graduated from German or Dutch universities.

  • johnny canuck on January 13, 2012 2:51 PM:

    TheOtherJim on January 13, 2012 11:48 AM:

    Oh, wait: doesn't that pretty much condemn everyone in that pleasant country to the north of us?

    Actually no, about 25% of the population speak french as their mother tongue- most of them can also speak english pretty well. Of the rest of us, while we probably studied french in high school, most don't use it and quickly lose all but a few phrases.