Will Speaking French Derail US Presidential Hopeful's Nomination Campaign?

Oui, je parle Francais.”

There, I admit it. Though I realize if Newt Gingrich gets in office, there may be a McCarthy-like roundup of anyone who ever scored a 4 or 5 on their SAT II’s in French.

“Do you now,” they will ask, “or have you ever conjugated a French verb?”

Gingrich’s South Carolina ads attack Mitt Romney as a moderate. He even accuses him of the unthinkable: “just like John Kerry — he speaks French!” You can watch the ad on YouTube here.

These attacks aim to align Romney with elitist liberalism. Some political commentators said that showing Romney speaking French is an effort to “effeminize” him.

French effeminizing!? Tell that to Jean-Paul Belmondo, or Gerard Depardieu, or Alain Delon. (Well, maybe not Delon).

The clip of Kerry shows him addressing a crowd with “laissez les bon temps rouler!”

This is no effete literary reference. Any drunken frat boy or dipsy Southern debutante who has been to Mardi Gras can tell you it’s the rallying cry for a drunkenly good time in New Orleans: “Let the good times roll!”

Gingrich should know this. He spent several years in New Orleans getting his Ph.D. in history (we are constantly reminded) from Tulane University in 1971. The university’s requirements for this include at least one, often two, foreign languages. So we know that Gingrich is at least “bi” — if not trilingual.

My father was a French literature professor at Tulane and had been chairman of the Romance Languages Department. I can assure you this department would not have certified Gingrich unless he could actually speak French.

Gingrich’s dissertation surely demanded knowledge of French. His topic was “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945-1960.” Like any graduate student, he must have immersed himself in his subject — a French-speaking country. He cites more than 100 French-language sources in footnotes.

Is he hiding his own Francophone secret? Or did he play fast and loose with his research — citing sources he could not possibly have read with comprehension?

French is inescapable in New Orleans — and Gingrich must have been immersed in it. French theatrical companies visit the Tulane campus, New Orleans street signs proclaim French heroes, restaurants feature crayfish “etouffee.” With his chubby cheeks, it seems unlikely that the young Gingrich would have shunned the pleasures of New Orleans eating. At some point, he must have ordered in French.

Louisiana law, drawn from French legal codes, was originally written in French. In “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Stanley Kowalski declares: “Now, we got here in the state of Louisiana what’s known as the Napoleonic Law.” Stanley is no effeminized intellectual. Marlon Brando, who starred in the role, is the ur-source of wife-beater chic – commanding the screen in his undershirt.

Gingrich’s ad defies his own relationship with one of our nation’s most culturally rich cities. Maybe he is willing to write off the whole state of Louisiana. Or any state once part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Maybe the former speaker wants to write off any relationship with foreign leaders — or anyone who speaks another language. Forget that George W. Bush was once praised for delivering a speech in Spanish.

Forget that Jacqueline Kennedy’s French charmed French President Charles de Gaulle into diplomatic submission, prompting President John F. Kennedy to declare: “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.”

But is Gingrich really willing to write off his own past?

As any armchair psychologist can see: This is projection. Gingrich has made a habit of accusing his enemies of his own attributes. He urged President Bill Clinton’s impeachment for sexual indiscretions at the same time he was in the midst of dumping his own wife to take up with the foreign-sounding Callista.

He is now going after Romney for speaking French, when it seems clear that he is a Francophone.

“J’accuse!” — Right back at ya!
Taken from Politico: 19.01.12