I mean, just a guess.
Remember "freedom fries" and "freedom toast?" Of course, replacing the word French with the word freedom was punishment for France (not to mention the rest of the world) not supporting the American invasion of Iraq. But France has long been the butt of conservative jokes and the premise of lazy conservative arguments.
In 2007, the Boston Globe obtained an internal strategy memo from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. France bashing was key to his strategy for winning the Republican primary. The memo declared that the European Union wanted to "drag America down to Europe's standards," adding: "That's where Hillary and the Dems would take us. Hillary = France." The memo also called for the campaign to print "First, not France" bumper stickers.
I can't count how many times, in political conversation, I've heard conservatives ask, "Do you want us to end up like France?!" Any conversation about universal healthcare inevitably turns to: "Sheesh, look at France!"
OK, look at France.
- The World Health Organization reports that France has the best overall health system in the world. The U.S., which spends a higher portion of its GDP than any other country on healthcare, ranks 37 out of 191 countries--behind Columbia and Saudi Arabia.
- France ranks higher in Human Development Index than the U.S. (11 versus 15).
- France incarcerates a much smaller proportion of its population than does the United States (91 per 100,000 people versus 726 per 100,000 people).
- Oh, and they don't execute people.
- The French work less, vacation more, and live longer.
I know, I know. Arrogance! Snootiness! Ungratefulness! These are some of the stereotypes about the French that seem pretty unpolitical. But the tenacity with which conservatives attack France shows it's more than just friendly ribbing. There's a crude strategy there, behind the silliness.
I think conservatives want to prevent Americans from viewing France as any kind of model worth imitating--a model of an excellent health system, for instance. More broadly, conservatives don't want the American people to consider an alternative approach--which the French often present--for dealing with economic and political elites--an approach that goes beyond electoral politics.
Sometimes conservatives' France-bashing seems downright hateful, which is understandable. Walk in their shoes for a moment. Imagine that your financial fortune depends upon keeping your countrymen from organizing to tangibly improve their own lives. Now, imagine you look across the Atlantic to a country that is in many ways like your own. And you see something like this:
People in the streets. An organized, engaged, militant citizenry.
The truth is, the American people could learn a lot from the French. I don't mean we should start eating Brie. I mean we should get organized and stop taking so much crap. What I love about the latest French strike is that its demands were so broad, you could almost say it didn't have specific demands. It was a show of force from the working class, a reminder to the government that it should either remember who it serves or prepare for massive disruption, massive resistance.
What would happen if we had just a glimpse of that in America again? How would it change our current situation, where we find ourselves weakly begging banks and CEOs to be responsible with our money? What might be accomplished?
The banks and CEOs hope we never find out.