Letter to Sen. Gordon Smith [R-OR]

Sent by email today (13 August):

Senator Smith:

I take no small offense in your remark in a conference call yesterday (August 12), and reported in the Los Angeles Times that “It’s not John Kerry’s fault that he looks French.” What, exactly, is that supposed to mean?

I know, it’s one of the Republican talking points that are so easy for people to repeat. But it wasn’t funny when one of the White House PR flacks floated it months ago and it’s really not funny now, after six months or so have passed.

My ancestry includes a line that goes back to the Mayflower. But other parts of my family tree extend into eastern Canada — yes, French Canada. One of my grandfathers had the fairly common French surname of Danton, so I figure I probably look a little French myself.

Some of the earliest European explorers of this great nation were French, and if you’ve done some travelling, perhaps you might have noticed that the center portion of the United States includes a lot of “French-sounding” places: Joliet, Des Moines, Versailles, Eau Claire, La Salle, Louisiana. Not all of the “French” people went away.

The reason it’s not funny is that you didn’t mean it as a joke, it was meant to disparage your fellow senator. Some of the Republican party’s base doesn’t like the French stand on the Iraq war, so it’s a cheap and easy shot. But how low do you want to sink? If someone from the Bush campaign told you that one of Kerry’s ancestors was African-American, would you have said he looks “a little bit black?” Maybe they couldn’t push you quite that far. Perhaps you could just imply that he looks “sort of Arab,” or “kind of gay.” They’re already pushing that line, save it for next time.

Last August, more than eleven thousand mostly elderly French citizens died in a heat wave, and some people in the U.S. were actually laughing at that tragedy, because of the anti-French frenzy the administration whipped up. You’re simply perpetuating that type of hate.

You and everyone else who has indulged in this type of name-calling owe Sen. Kerry an apology for participating in it. More importantly, you owe every descendent of French immigrants to this country a public apology for your pathetic implication that there was any “fault” with Kerry looking French. As if you could tell by looking at him.