Politics & Policy

French-Hating Pas De Deux

Another Bastille Day, another Bastille Day Column.


Wednesday, I did something stupid. I wrote, “…it might be fun to set up a little challenge for myself. On Friday, I will write about whatever the story is on the upper left-hand corner of the New York Times.”

Alas, I didn’t take into account several factors. First, I didn’t realize that I would be up until 2:00 AM the night before working on my ANWR-opus for NR on DeadTree. Second, I didn’t know it would be so nice outside that my dog would hire Abbe Lowell to harass me into taking him back to the park. Third, I didn’t know the NRO staff would be splitting early. Fourth, I hadn’t thought about the fact that if a vest had sleeves it would be a pretty frumpy-looking jacket. Fifth, how could I have predicted this coffee-soaked paragraph would go on for so long? … All right let’s skip ahead: Seventeenth, I couldn’t possibly know that the upper-left hand story on the front page of the New York Times would be about a Haitian man, Abner Louima, who was on the receiving end of something that he didn’t want to receive in an area not designed for receiving anything, ever. Worse (this is seventeen, part A) that the story would be a dull follow-up on his lawsuit. And, eighteenth, I completely spaced on the fact that tomorrow is Bastille Day and I’ve promised in the past to have my annual French-bashing column come out before the actual day commemorating the bold lumpenfrenchie seizure of an empty prison and the murder of six unarmed soldiers in the name of Egalité, Fraternité, and Fromages à pâte molle Très (Very Soft Cheeses).

So I will attempt what is commonly referred to in France as a pas de deux, or, “movement of two.” The phrase is usually reserved for the world of dance, but it is sometimes used when two Parisians are trying escape and surrender at the same time (picture a guy with a goatee running away as he yells “don’t shoot! I give up!”).

Anyway, Abner Louima, as we all know, got the shaft (“Boo! hiss!” Screamed my newly civil-libertarian couch). I have no doubt that Louima annoyed the police ill-advisedly. And while I’m one of these guys who thinks cops can slap people around from time to time — if it’s called for and if they don’t get caught (See “Restoring the Hidden Law“), what happened to Louima was disgraceful. He deserves whatever is left of his whopping $7 million dollar settlement after Johnnie Cochran gets his taste, of course.

The thin blue line needs to operate in a wide gray area when it comes to maintaining the social order, but what the cops did — essentially raping him with a broomstick — was torture and totally unacceptable. Indeed, as someone who has long wanted to bring back the Hammurabic Code, I am tempted to argue that Justin Volpe should have the same thing done to him. Alas, the courts do not see things the same way. And yet, somehow I can’t shake the suspicion that are a few Hammurabi fans currently residing in America’s criminal-justice system waiting for him. Call it a hunch.

In fact, Louima no doubt came to America from his native Haiti to escape such barbarity and seek a better life. Haiti, we all know, is a land of profound poverty and sorrow, where AIDS, deprivation and corruption are the norm.

I wonder how it got that way.

(“This is soooo obvious,” my couch declared as he rolled the pillows where his eyes would be if couches had eyes).

France is very fond of ridiculing America’s racist past. And, of course, America does have a racist past worthy of ridicule. But on the other hand being lectured on such things by the French is like having Jerry Nadler suggest that I should eat more salad.

Because Haiti looks like the set of a Mad Max movie without the nice suburbs people forget that there was a time when it was perhaps the richest place on Earth. Well, that’s not quite right. The 20,000 French citizens were living large — two thirds of all French trade came through Haiti — but the 570,000 slaves were in bad shape. The French, in what was then called St Domingue, were a profoundly cruel bunch. Baron de Wimpffen, a French man of pacifist leanings whose name I did not make up, visited St. Domingue in 1790. He marveled at the lavishness, sophistication, and kindness of his hostess. That was until one of the dishes at her banquet didn’t meet her standards and she matter-of-factly ordered the cook thrown in the oven.

One need not dwell on the history of Haiti, because it is a well-told story that is only tangentially related to my intended efforts to smear our valued strategic partners who wouldn’t bother to give our military flyover rights if Godzilla were crossing Alsace Lorraine. But it is important to note that a bunch of unarmed, largely uneducated slaves, gave France the shaft militarily, writing the first chapter in what was to become the two century long story of the French nation getting shellacked every time it girds its man-panties enough to get into a fight in the first place.

Admittedly, it’s a shame — as many Lefty Historians have pointed out — that Thomas Jefferson a French voluptuary and great booster of bloody revolutions, couldn’t find common cause with the Haitian revolutionaries so close to home (John Adams and the Federalists, however, were generally cool with the idea of an independent and black-run St. Domingue). But that might have had something to do with the fact that his Jacobin heroes in Paris were eager to declare the Universal Rights of Man except in those places that supplied Parisians fresh sugar for their lukewarm dishwater coffee. It wasn’t until 1794, when the French Revolution was circling the toilet bowl and French soldiers were bayoneting themselves in the foot rather than go back to fight, that the Froggies rejected slavery.

Now, as we all know, there are many good reasons to hate the cheese-eating surrender monkeys — as groundskeeper Willie and all longtime readers know them. Survey after survey reveals that raccoons bathe more than the average Frenchman. They stuck us with Vietnam and took credit for liberating Paris after they spent most of World War Two chastising the chef for not serving Herr General a Fresh brioche. They made intellectual racism popular — Paul Johnson once wrote, “the French have always been outstandingly gifted [at] taking a German idea and making it fashionable with superb timing.” And of course, they are constantly complaining about us, and nobody likes a whiner (See “Europe on the Whine.”). In fact, Napoleon once observed, “The French complain about everything and always.” But then again he was a Corsican.

But I’ve got a problem (“I’ll say you do! Why don’t you let me sit in your lap for the entire Godfather Trilogy sometime. Maybe afterwards you can guess what it is,” quoth the couch).

Sorry, my couch is talking about a different problem. Anyway, my problem is actually twofold. (“Mon dieu! Another pas de deux! How droll!”) First, I do not want to repeat myself too much. So, I don’t want to rehash the same old jokes about how the boulevards in Paris are lined with trees on both sides so the Germans can march in the shade and all that. While Noel Coward was right when he said, “There has always been something fishy about the French,” it’s not like you folks don’t know already that the average Frenchman uses far more penicillin than soap.

So yes, P. J. O’Rourke — who may be twice as smart as me and three times as funny but is, unfairly, a zillion times richer — was right when he observed a quarter century ago, “The French are sawed-off sissies who eat snails and slugs and cheese that smells like people’s feet. Utter cowards who force their own children to drink wine, they gibber like baboons even when you try to speak to them in their own wimpy language.”

And sure, sure, there are some new stories to be sure, like the latest French “campaign-finance” scandal in which it was revealed that every month an armored car leaves the treasury and swings by various government officials’ offices to hand out giant stacks of unmarked, undeclared, untraceable cash. It’s been going on for more than 50 years and it only occurred to people in the last month or so that maybe, just maybe, giving $50 million worth of no-strings-attached francs every year, might be a bad idea. Then again, those francs go fast. As Billy Wilder noted, “France is the only country where the money falls apart and you can’t tear the toilet paper.”

And there’s the issue of the French aircraft carrier which, is following the example of its own crewmen and losing its crap at the mere thought of battle. And there are the police who spend their time making sure that the French laborers don’t work more that 32 hours a week and who literally search people to make sure they don’t take work home, at the same time that the actual crime rate in France is now higher than it is here — which is something that you wouldn’t know from the violent depiction of American culture over there. But it’s a good thing they’re keeping people from collecting overtime. Consider that anyone making more than $45,000 a year pays the top tax rate of 54 percent, and an additional 16 percent for Social Security taxes. Why should anyone bother working? And, don’t even get me started on the fact that the French can’t seem to fully remove their lips from the posterior of convicted murderer and American fugitive Ira Einhorn simply because he’s willing to give sound bites about how terrible America is.

But the fact remains its sometimes hard to find new fresh material on the snail-eaters.

My second problem is that I did promise to write about Abner Louima. But he’s been through enough (and Cosmo must punish the squirrels). So, on this Bastille Day let us take some inspiration from the man and conjure a new phrase for our friends across the Atlantic, the French, the bâton dans l’âne de l’Amérique.

Look it up yourself.


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