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Mitt Romney’s French lessons

Nowadays, the Republican playbook calls for plenty of France-bashing — and as one of the GOP’s presumptive presidential candidates, Governor Mitt Romney is happy to oblige. "We’re in a position where unless we take action, we’ll end up being the France of the 21st century," Romney said this week, during a speech on the deficiencies of the American educational system. "A lot of talk, but not a lot of strength behind it in terms of economic capability."

Tread carefully, Mitt! After all, France made you the man you are today. Remember the Vietnam War? Not firsthand, since you spent most of 1966, ’67, and ’68 as a Mormon missionary (complete with draft deferment) in the land of Napoleon and de Gaulle. That horrific car crash that nearly took your life near Bordeaux, when the Citroën you were driving collided with a drunk driver coming the other way — it’s not a pleasant memory. But it taught you a valuable lesson; as you told the Herald a few years ago, "It underscores the fragile nature of life — we are here but a short time and gone." Plus, there’s something spine-tingling messianic about the fact that the gendarme on the scene actually wrote "il est mort" on your passport. How cool is that?

You learned other lessons, too. You arrived in France the pampered son of a famous American politician (former Michigan governor George Romney), a product of suburban Detroit’s prestigious Cranbrook School (you also had a brief stint at Stanford). Suddenly, you were living in a state of semi-poverty; your apartment had too many fleas and no toilet; the Catholics and Communists you met didn’t take kindly to your friendly overtures on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. France toughened you up — and, at the same time, it intensified your affection for the US. "It’s hard for people in America to understand how locked in people can feel without true liberty and free enterprise," you said once.

And let’s be honest — there were some happy times as well. Remember when your father visited Versailles? While the mayor of that city introduced him, you used your outstanding French to translate his comments into English. But then you garbled the mayor’s good-luck wishes, and directed an obscenity at your dad! And what about those photos you took to send to the woman who became your wife — the ones where you’d scrawled "I LOVE ANN" on the sand of various French beaches? Très romantique!

All of which isn’t to say that the French aren’t a bunch of poorly educated, spineless, wine-swilling, Brie-eating, fancy-pants pacifists. They are, obviously. Still, you might want to avoid mentioning your excellent French adventure on the presidential-campaign trail. That kind of thing may fly in Massachusetts, but in Iowa and South Carolina, people won’t be so understanding.

Issue Date: November 18 - 24, 2005
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