CBSN

French still foils in American politics

Mitt Romney happens to speak French. Fluently. Because he lived in France, where he was a Mormon missionary in the 1960's.

But, points out CBS News national correspondent Chip Reid, speaking French apparently isn't a plus when you're running for president.

An ad out this week that shows Romney speaking French ten years ago.

Attack ad shows Mitt Romney speaking French

It was paid for by a Democratic political action committee, in the hope that Republican primary voters will see Romney as "too French."

It's not the first time in the recent past that an association with France has been potential political poison.

In 2003, the French fries in House of Representatives cafeterias were renamed freedom fries -- to protest French opposition to the war in Iraq.

And during the 2004 presidential campaign, some Republicans accused John Kerry of "looking French" -- to portray him as elite and out of touch.

The French say all the bashing is unfair, arguing that there might not even be a United States of America if it hadn't been for help from France during the Revolutionary War.

In Washington, Lafayette Park is named for the Marquis de Lafayette, the French general who played a crucial role in that war. And the park sits on some of the best real estate in town -- right across from the White House.

Romney, for his part, isn't hiding his fluent French. This week in New Hampshire, he openly spoke French with a French-Canadian barber.

Olivier Knox, a French reporter who cover American politics for Agence France-Presse, says he doesn't think the France-bashing works -- but he also doesn't expect it to stop.

"There's very little downside politically or socially to attacking France," he observes. "Whether you're a late night comic or the producer of an attack video for a political campaign, there simply isn't the kind of pushback from a French lobby, or even from French officials if you do that."

Romney may even find speaking French is a plus in the all-important primary state of New Hampshire, where a-quarter of the population is of French or French-Canadian ancestry.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.