Chait’s Response to the criticism offered below.
And a Little More: Now We Know What Real Humor Is….Or at Least Real Jokes
An old friend, Veronique de Rugy, has been slimed for her defense of some fundamental moral principles. I’ve known her for at least 19 years, since we organized the first English-language IES-Europe seminars (modeled on the IHS seminars in the US, which I had organized for some years before) in Szirak (Hungary) and Dalarö (Sweden). (I also stayed in her flat when she would leave Paris for weekends during the hottest Paris summer since Charlemagne; that was in 1995, and I was living in a one-room garret at 35 avenue Mac-Mahon near the Etoile. The heat was suffocating, even at night, and there was no running water, other than a tap in the hallway, so I would go to her place on those weekends when she visited her family to immerse myself in cold baths to survive the heat.) But I digress.
Vero recently criticized a proposal by Rep. Barney Frank for a special tax on high compensation and concluded “This anti-capitalist and anti-wealth mentality is scary and very anti-American.” (I suspect that what Vero was searching for was “un-American,” but you’ll understand why that may not have come to her as quickly as it might to some.) That did not sit well with two lefty bloggers. Jonathan Chait thought it clever to respond, “Hey, you know what else is anti-American? Being named ‘Veronique de Rugy.’” How very sophisticated. But, not to be outdone, Matthew Yglesias added some icing to the cake,
Veronique de Rugy is So Anti-American That She’s Not Even an American!
Jon Chait and I both likes it when Barney Frank dismissed concerns that a bank tax would drive talent out of the industry by quipping “I don’t know where people would go for comparable salaries, I guess perhaps they could star in major motion pictures.”
Veronique de Rugy begs to differ, saying “This anti-capitalist and anti-wealth mentality is scary and very anti-American.” Chait retorts “Hey, you know what else is anti-American? Being named ‘Veronique de Rugy.’”
My Googling has, however, revealed something even more disturbing — Veronique de Rugy is literally not an American. She’s French. She holds a PhD from the University of Paris-Sorbonne and is the author of an un-American book with the suspiciously French title Action ou Taxation. It’s true that she agreed to betray her native land by making this France-bashing video, but that doesn’t change the basic facts. Barney Frank is as American as an actual American.
Now, let’s unpack this. On the one hand, Chait and Yglesias just might think that people who are not from America should shut up, in which case they’re idiots. Or maybe they’re trying to be ironic, in which case they’re idiots. Or, if that’s too harsh, either they’re dim, or they’re dim.
Yglesias and Chait are idiots (or just dim). They think that mocking people for unusual names is funny, or that only authentic Americans (perhaps native-born, so I don’t qualify, either, or citizens, or whatever) can or should ever make statements about what it is to be an American. That would qualify them as knuckle dragging neanderthals, that is, as idiots.
However, it’s worth considering whether Chait and Yglesias are attempting to be ironic. (I am going to be very careful here, as I recently criticized two dunderheads for their failure to understand the use of irony by a colleague).
So, Option Two:
Chait and Yglesias are trying to turn the tables on those who charge that X or Y is “un-American” (or “anti-American,” in Vero’s phrasing) by returning the favor. Ha ha, some may think. How clever. Yet, upon reflection, it would seem that, if that is their intent, they are too dim to understand the difference between A) calling, say, unequal treatment by the law “un-American” for violating the Constitution and the best core principles of the American tradition, and B) calling the serving of “saucisses et choucroute” “un-American,” in contrast to, say, “hot dogs and sauerkraut” [note the double irony, guys]. Vero criticized special laws punishing people for high incomes as un-American, in the way that one might call censorship “un-American” (Think! Think! The First Amendment is an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America); she did not remark that Hindus, or Catholics, or Scientologists, or sauerkraut are un-American, or use the term in any of the other ways in which the epithet “un-American” is slung around by knuckle-draggers, who confuse “America” with cuisine, or religion, or other inessential matters, rather than with principles of government, of liberty, and of justice.
Or maybe they’ve just put their feet in their big mouths and owe Veronique an apology. I doubt it would erase the embarrassment they should feel, but it would be the decent, French thing to do.
P.S. A note I got from Vero this afternoon: “Thanks also for correction my English. My french brain can’t totally get the difference between Anti and un- american but I can see that it was a mistake. Oh well.” I don’t see them as having any substantive distinction relevant to this smear of her. “UnAmerican” is what she was searching for, but “anti-American” is merely a matter of context; it’s usually used in the context of foreign activities (“anti-American riots,” for example), whereas the domestic context (which is obviously the context for Vero’s remarks about tax policies) would normally require “unAmerican.” In any case, the smear of her for being French and having a French name is disgusting. And the nativist comments from the defenders of Chait and Yglesias support my point. They are disgusting.
UPDATE: It turns out that Mr. Chait is guilty of accusing advocates of tax cuts of being “deeply unpatriotic” after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. As usual, he could not wrap his mind around the idea that any actual taxpayers favor cutting their taxes, so he directed all his bile toward “K Street,” apparently unaware that normally “K Street” refers to DC lobbyists, who normally have their hands out for more subsidies. But here’s what Mr. “How Dare You Call Barney Frank’s Policy Positions UnAmerican” Chait wrote about advocates of tax cuts in The New Republic: “There is something deeply unpatriotic about K Street’s rush to turn the tragedy into quick profit.” Now we get it, Mr. Chait. People who want to limit government are “unpatriotic,” but referring to “the mentality” of punitive taxation (and that is the most appropriate term for Barney Frank’s proposal) as “scary and anti-American” is cause for mocking the name of the “Veronique de Rugy.” I suspect there would have been tears if someone had responded to his smear by mocking the name of “Chait.” (Some might say a foreign name like that doesn’t really sound very patriotic to them!) Grow up, little Jonathan.