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Presidents McCain and Romney Weigh in on "Aging Actress," France

November 17, 2015

In the wake of the slaughter in Paris, Republican presidential candidates current and past have rushed offer their condolences to France and their condemnation of President Obama. The GOP's 2008 nominee John McCain issued a statement declaring:

"My thoughts and prayers are with all of the people of France. America stands with our ally, the French government and citizens, as they mourn, heal, rebuild and prepare their response to this monstrous act of mass murder by ISIL."

For his part, the party's 2012 standard bearer Mitt Romney took to Facebook to proclaim:

"The City of Light became a city of tears. America weeps with you."

Of course, McCain and Romney were singing a different tune about America's first ally when each was seeking the White House. Back then, it was Senator McCain who compared France to "an aging movie actress" who, like the poor "will always be with us." And it was candidate Romney who was planning to print "First, Not France" bumper stickers as part of his grand plan to become President.
As President Bush prepared to pull the trigger on the Iraq war in February 2003, John McCain was at the forefront of those browbeating France for its refusal to back the U.S. at the United Nations. On February 10, 2003, McCain declared on MSNBC's Hardball:

"Look, I don't mean to try to be snide, but the Lord said the poor will always be with us. The French will always be with us, too."

McCain's venom toward the French was on full display two days later during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. On February 13, 2003, McCain warned of "new threats to civilization [which] again defy our imagination in scale and potency" portrayed Iraq as "threat of the first order." He proclaimed that "the United States does not have reliable allies to implement a policy to contain Iraq" and pointed the finger squarely at France:

"Compare our great power allies in the Cold War with those with whom we act today in dealing with Iraq.
France has unashamedly pursued a concerted policy to dismantle the UN sanctions regime, placing its commercial interests above international law, world peace and the political ideals of Western civilization. Remember them? Liberte, egalite, fraternite."

Then on the 18th, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Lateline program highlighted McCain's antipathy toward France:

Here's how influential Senator John McCain sees the French.
JOHN MCCAIN, REPUBLICAN SENATOR: They remind me of an aging movie actress in the 1940s who is still trying to dine out on her looks but doesn't have the face for it.
NORMAN HERMANT: Many in Washington are now saying relations with France have been a problem going all the way back to the end of World War II.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Perhaps Churchill and Roosevelt made a very serious mistake when they decided to give France a veto in the Security Council when the United Nations was organized.

As for Mitt Romney, who spent his Vietnam War years as a missionary in Paris instead of the rice paddies of Southeast Asia, France is a symbol of everything the United States should never be. And during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaign, "France" was the reason he claimed neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama should be in the White House.
Throughout 2012, Governor Romney assailed President Obama for supposedly wanting to create "an entitlement society" in which "government should create equal outcomes." As he put it in Iowa, "I think he believes America should become a European-style welfare state." Then after his victory in New Hampshire, Romney repeated that Obama "wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society" and "takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe."
And during his failed 2008 effort to secure the GOP nomination, Romney made no secret of which European capital he meant. In February 2007, the Boston Globe obtained a 77-slide Powerpoint presentation laying out the Romney campaign's approach for the challenges and competitors he would face in 2008. The document detailed strategies for overcoming his reputation as a "flip-flopper," addressing his Mormon faith, defeating his GOP rivals and, most of all, beating presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election. If the language drafted by his consultant Alex Castellanos sounded familiar (the same Alex Castellanos who continued to serve as a CNN regular despite calling Hillary Clinton a "bitch" on the air), it should:

The plan, for instance, indicates that Romney will define himself in part by focusing on and highlighting enemies and adversaries, such common political targets as "jihadism," the "Washington establishment," and taxes, but also Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, "European-style socialism," and, specifically, France. Even Massachusetts, where Romney has lived for almost 40 years, is listed as one of those "bogeymen," alongside liberalism and Hollywood values...
Enmity toward France, where Romney did his Mormon mission during college, is a recurring theme of the document. The European Union, it says at one point, wants to "drag America down to Europe's standards," adding: "That's where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France." The plan even envisions "First, not France" bumper stickers.

Luckily for citizens on both sides of the Atlantic, neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney finished first. That's why the people of France can rest assured that President Obama means it when he says the United States "prepared and ready to provide whatever assistance that the government and the people of France need to respond." Sadly, would-have-been Presidents McCain and Romney, like so many in the Republican Party, never stood with our first ally at all.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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