By now, you've heard about the Newter's most recent anti-Romney attack ad, in which he accuses the Republican front-runner of two unspeakable crimes: coming from Massachusetts and speaking French. If you haven't seen for yourself, take a look:
To be honest, this could have been a pretty funny ad. Do you hear the Parisian cafe music playing in the background? Somebody was trying. If they'd kept the focus on France, they could have won us over. You know: Photoshop a moustache and beret onto Romney, show some file footage of the guy eating cheese or talking about Derrida. That would have been funny.
Sadly, though, the ad stopped short of anything really clever, not to mention incriminating. "Je m'appelle Mitt Romney," with a bad accent? That's not really a Gauloise-smoking gun.
It is worth mentioning, though, that Romney does speak French. As a young man, he spent two years spreading the wisdom of the Angel Moroni through the streets of Paris. We don't gather that he speaks it as well as John Kerry, who is said to be nearly fluent, but he does speak it. For us, that's a very good thing; we like the idea of a national leader who has seen the world, and who can make chit-chat in one of the great diplomatic languages of the West.
We ourselves speak something that sounds, for a moment, like French, and although it doesn't do us much good with actual French people (who have standards), it can be very helpful in a train car full of Africans or Middle Easterners.
In the mind of a certain Republican primary voter, though, French is the Devil's language, spoken by cheese-eating surrender monkeys, the sort of people who like labor unions and garlic, and who didn't support our heroic invasion of Iraq. So to accuse a candidate of speaking French is almost as bad as saying that he masticates every day, or once tried to interest a 13-year-old girl in philately.
One of the ironies here, of course, is that Newt Gingrich also speaks French. As a matter of fact, he went to high school there, in Orleans, and at one point his family lived in a chateau in the Loire Valley. (Not that Newt is an elitist or nuthin'.) His doctoral dissertation (from Tulane, in New Orleans, where French is still spoken on occasion) was on Belgian policies in the Congo, so he either reads French pretty well or is an utter academic fraud. (Or both).
Newt's little adventure into Republican loyalist frogophobia is an embarrassment, and not to Mitt Romney. It is an embarrassment to the cowardly custard advertising director who didn't put in the moustache and the word balloon with a witty remark by Simone de Beauvoir. And it is an embarrassment to Gingrich, who makes a great show of his supposed intellectual prowess, and then attacks a colleague for possessing what, a generation ago, was the bare minimum attainment of a civilized person.
* Did they rock your cradle too close to the wall? It's a very mild insult.