Richard S. Dunham What will our lawmakers on Capitol Hill think of next? On Mar. 11, House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), at the request of his North Carolina GOP colleague Walter Jones, declared that, from this day on, all references to "French fries" and "French toast" will be yanked from the menus of the restaurants and snack bars run by the House of Representatives. Ney, who admits that he has a small portion of French blood coursing through his all-American veins, declared that the new term for the greasy fast-food items would be "Freedom fries" and "Freedom toast."
At first, I thought this faux pas was an Internet hoax perpetrated by Democrats seeking to portray Republicans as chest-thumping goofballs. Or perhaps it was a parody of the bad old days of World War I, where the real enemy of American troops -- Germany -- was symbolically "punished" by having the name sauerkraut removed from American menus (it became "liberty cabbage"), and frankfurters became "hot dogs."
Mais, non! This is real. Ney issued a statement declaring that House Republicans were retaliating against the French because of their "continued refusal to stand with their U.S. allies.... This action today is a small, but symbolic, effort to show the strong displeasure many on Capitol Hill have with our so-called ally, France."
SAD, NOT MAD. Sad but true. These so-called policymakers have turned an honest disagreement between two historical allies into a testosterone-charged game of tit-for-tat. It sounds a lot like a boozy fraternity prank, not the actions of sober, sophisticated lawmakers. Quel dommage! (Hey gents, French fries aren't even French. They originated in Belgium. It was the Americans that incorrectly attached the French to the fries in the first place.)
The official French reaction is that they take the insults more in sorrow than in anger. "I witness this campaign day after day with great sadness," French Ambassador to the U.S. Jean-David Levitte said at a Mar. 12 breakfast meeting with reporters. "The more you have French-bashing in the U.S., the more it fuels anti-American feeling in France" (see BW Online, 2/24/03, "Stop Frying the French").
It doesn't take much to fuel anti-American feeling in France, either. A Zogby Poll last year found that residents of Iran gave American culture more favorable ratings than the citizens of France did. Next thing you know, we could have a rhetorical arms race between American yahoos and French yahoos. Where will it end? Will Jerry Lewis be barred from French TV and movie screens? Will American men never be able to admire the beauty of Catherine Deneuve again?
REAGAN WAFFLES. Come to think of it, why end the name game with French fries and French toast? Here are suggestions for other changes Ney may want to make to the House menus:
Enough with those Belgian waffles. Belgium is siding with the French against the U.S. of A. Let's rename them Reagan waffles. Heck, House Republicans have already named everything else in the country for the 40th President.
And there's Russian dressing. The Russians may be with us in the war on terror, but they won't agree to take out Saddam now. So off the menu they go. True, we renamed it "Thousand Island dressing" during the Cold War, but that's so '80s. Then again, because of its pink color, maybe the Republicans can rename it Pelosi dressing, since House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is a leading war critic, and antiwar advocates have adopted pink as their couleur de guerre.
FORGET NEUTRALITY. The Chinese aren't with us at the U.N., either. So herewith, no more Chinese food on the House menu. We can call it Robertson food now, to honor religious broadcaster-turned-global entrepreneur Pat Robertson, who has scads of investments in China. He's a good Republican.
Then there's Swiss cheese. As the President has said, "If you're not with us, you're against us." And the Swiss are notorious for their professed neutrality. That won't wash in these perilous times. Let's punish them by taking their names off their cheese. A better name: Homeland Security Cheese. Why? Because it's full of holes.
And we can't forget our dastardly neighbors to the north, the Canadians. Remember that Ottawa parliamentarian who called Americans "bastards" and said she hated us? Well, goodbye, Canadian bacon. Hello Alaskan bacon, in honor of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), whose fondness for legislative pork is legendary.
THE CLINTON KISS. Why limit our name changes to food? French everything has to go. French horn? The freedom horn! French doors? Let-freedom-swing doors! French kiss? Now that's a tough one. How about the Kiss of Newt, in honor of the fallen House Speaker from Georgia, Newt Gingrich? Or the Clinton kiss? Yeah, that's the ticket.
Of course, it's a lot easier to personally attack someone who disagrees with you rather than to reason together. That's something politicians in both parties have been doing for years. Representative Jones said it well when he noted that the "self-serving politics of passive aggression in this effort has discouraged me more than I can say." He was talking about the French. But congressman, you might want to take a good look in the mirror. Dunham is a White House correspondent for BusinessWeek's Washington bureau. Follow his views every Monday in Washington Watch, only on BusinessWeek Online