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Parlez-Vous Francais, Monsieur Gingrich?

All may be fair in love, war and politics, but Newt Gingrich’s ad campaign against Mitt Romney is plumbing the depths of absurdity. His super PAC-funded documentary accusing Romney of being an evil capitalist was ridiculous coming from a man claiming to be the “true conservative,” but his latest ad, “The French Connection” to run in South Carolina gives us another lesson in how to go over the top.

The conceit of the ad is an attempt to compare Romney to Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. Dredging up his past as a “Massachusetts moderate” who distanced himself from the GOP when he ran for the Senate in 1994 is fair game. But the closing argument, “Just like John Kerry, he speaks French, too” is the stuff of satire. Twitter is already overflowing with jokes about Gingrich’s own Francophone tendencies. Meanwhile, Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy sums up the evidence pointing to Newt’s ability to speak the language of Voltaire, Victor Hugo and, yes, his hero, Charles de Gaulle.

Gingrich lived in France for two years as a teenager when his Army father was stationed there, and he has said that his visit to the site of the World War I battle of Verdun helped change his life. He went on to write a doctoral thesis about the Belgium Congo, which includes French footnotes. Moreover, as someone who earned a PhD, he had to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language and, considering that he would have needed to read French to understand the source materials for his thesis, it’s almost certain one of his languages was Francais.

We don’t know if there are any videos out there with Newt speaking French as Romney did in the clip used in the Gingrich ad, but if there are, they are bound to surface.

The problem with Gingrich’s ad is not just that it closes with a line that is xenophobic, anti-intellectual and hypocritical; it is that the hypocrisy is so obvious. It may well be that Gingrich never saw or personally approved the ad but that just shows how disorganized and unaccountable a leader he is. Gingrich’s wealthy backers may enable him to keep campaigning as long as he wants to. But with ads like these, it’s looking as if his consultants are stealing his money.


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