Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bill Maher on the French election

One of Maher's "New Rules" from his May 4, 2007 show--just before the second round of the French Presidential election.

--Jeff Weintraub
Real Time with Bill Maher
May 4, 2007
New Rules

[....] And finally, New Rule: Conservatives have to stop rolling their eyes every time they hear the word, "France." Like just calling something "French" is the ultimate argument winner. As if to say, "What can you say about a country that was too stupid to get on board with our wonderfully-conceived and brilliantly-executed war in Iraq?"

And, yet, an American politician could not survive if he uttered the simple, true statement, "France has a better health care system than we do, and we should steal it." Because here, simply dismissing an idea as French passes for an argument. "John Kerry? Couldn't vote for him; he looked French." Yeah, as opposed to the other guy who just looked stupid.

Now, last week, France had an election, and people over there approach an election differently. They vote. Eighty-five percent of them turned out. You couldn't get 85% of Americans to get off the couch if there was an election between "Tits" and "Bigger Tits," and they were handing out free samples!

Now, maybe the high turnout has something to do with the fact that the French candidates are never asked where they stand on evolution, prayer in school, abortion, stem cell research or gay marriage. [JW: How about whether Muslim girls should be allowed to wear headscarfs in school?] And if the candidate knows about a character in a book other than Jesus, it's not a drawback. [JW: Too true.]

The electorate doesn't vote for the guy they want to have a croissant with; nor do they care about private lives. In the current race, Ségolène Royal has four kids, but she never got married. And she's a Socialist. In America, if a Democrat even thinks you're calling him "liberal," he grabs an orange vest and a rifle and heads into the woods to kill something!

Madame Royal's opponent [Nicolas Sarkozy] is married, but they live apart and lead separate lives. And the people are okay with that for the same reason they're okay with nude beaches; because they're not a nation of six-year-olds who scream and giggle if they see pee-pee parts!

They have weird ideas about privacy. They think it should be private. In France, even the mistresses have mistresses. To not have a lady on the side says to the voters, "I'm no good at multi-tasking."

Now, like any country, France has its faults, like all that ridiculous accordion music. But, their health care is the best in the industrialized world. As is their poverty rate. [JW: Not really, but it's true that France's health care system is better, and its poverty rate is lower, than ours in the US. Not to mention their train system. On the other hand, France is also a country where almost 15,000 elderly people died in the summer heat wave of 2003, while all the young people were off on vacation.] And they're completely independent of Mid East oil. [JW: Not exactly--but they do have much more nuclear power. Is that good?] And they're the greenest country. [JW: Not quite.] And they're not fat. And they have public intellectuals in France. We have Dr. Phil!

They invented sex during the day, lingerie and the tongue. Can't we admit we could learn something from them?

So, from now on, all you high-ranking Bush Administration officials, because the French are righter than you on most things, when France comes up in conversation, you are not allowed to roll your eyes. The only time you get to do that is when your hooker from Ms. Julia is blowing you.
P.S. One e-mail correspondent (who is neither French nor American) added these comments:
Sticking simply to what's mentioned explicitly--health care, poverty rates--Maher is right. But I think there's something too easy about the admiration for France he expresses here. Not only because--as you point out--he overstates the empirical case, but also because there's a sense in which France's belief in its own superior virtue isn't just based on particular things it does better: It's also based on seeing a kind of cynical world-weariness as a virtue. And certain types of Francophile, like Maher, are too ready to agree. America, too, valorizes some things it shouldn't (and over-valorizes some things it should valorize less), but it's sometimes too easy for aversion to philistinism, a good thing in itself, to lapse into the sort of cynicism I have in mind.

That's not by any means the worst sort of vice imaginable, but since it's one that Maher is particularly susceptible to, there's something too neat/easy about his praise of (here I will rein myself in: I was going to write THE COUNTRY THAT INVENTED CYNICISM ... but would be overkill, so I'll just say) France.