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The Framers on “foreign influence”

US ConstitutionNo person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

US Constitution

Those who argue that US Presidents must be born in the country to two US Citizen parents (“twofers” herein below) make representations about what the writers of the US Constitution intended. They typically focus on a letter from John Jay to George Washington, written while the Federal Convention of 1787 was considering the qualifications of the Presidency. Jay wrote:

Permit me to hint, whether it would be wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government; and to declare expressly that the Commander in Chief of the American army shall not be given to nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen. [underlining in the original]

The twofers then apply the logical fallacy of begging the question, something like:

  • Since Jay said “natural born citizen” he must have intended that only the most pure form of citizen be Commander in Chief.
  • The purest form of citizenship is being born in the country to two US Citizen parents
  • Therefore a natural born citizen is one who is born in the country to two US Citizen parents.

However, Jay didn’t say anything about extremes or purest forms. (Jay himself had three children born overseas before 1787, two in Spain and one in France.) Twofers use what they think he meant to define what he meant. The only hint Jay gives is “not a foreigner” and no one today, and I think not in 1787, would consider anyone born in the United States to be a “foreigner,” but rather than what I think, let’s examine next who the Framers thought a foreigner was.

The second bit that we have from the Framers is part of the debate over the seating of William Smith in the first Congress. Smith’s eligibility was challenged over the issue of when the Charleston-born Smith became a citizen. James Madison, the principal author of the Constitution, rose to defend Smith saying:

James Madison, 4th PresidentIt is an established maxim that birth is a criterion of allegiance. Birth, however, derives its force sometimes from place, and sometimes from parentage; but in general place is the most certain criterion; it is what applies in the United States; it will, therefore, be unnecessary to examine any other.

Congressman Smith was seated with only one dissenting vote.

In Federalist 62 we see this theme continued where Madison equates foreign influence with “foreign birth and education,” writing:

“. . . the nature of the senatorial trust, . . . participating immediately in transactions with foreign nations, ought to be exercised by none who are not thoroughly weaned from the prepossessions and habits incident to foreign birth and education. The term of nine years appears to be a prudent mediocrity between a total exclusion of adopted citizens, whose merits and talents may claim a share in the public confidence, and an indiscriminate and hasty admission of them, which might create a channel for foreign influence on the national councils.”
http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed62.asp

It is abundantly clear that for Madison determining who is a foreigner and who has loyalty to the country is circumstantially determined by place of birth in the United States and that in the United States parentage doesn’t matter.

We have the statement of Charles Pinckney, the last delegate to the 1787 Federal Convention to remain in Congress, who also speaking before that body said:

Charles Pinckney of South CarolinaThey [the framers] well knew, that to give to the members of Congress a right to give votes [as presidential electors] in this election, or to decide upon them when given, was to destroy the independence of the Executive, and make him the creature of the Legislature. This therefore they have guarded against, and to insure experience and attachment to the country, they have determined that no man who is not a natural born citizen, or citizen at the adoption of the Constitution, of fourteen years residence, and thirty-five years of age, shall be eligible. . . .

CCLXXXVIII.: Charles Pinckney in the United States Senate. 1 – Max Farrand, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, vol. 3 [1911]

The twofers then put words in Pinckney’s mouth to change “attachment” to “greatest possible attachment” but that is not what he said. Madison explained that allegiance (i.e. attachment) is determined by place of birth and that examination of parentage is “unnecessary”.

Readers here will have seen all this before. What some may not have seen is the material from which Pinckney’s remarks come, Max Farrand’s The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Farrand’s 4-volume work contains the official records of the convention, along with the notes of James Madison who diligently recorded the proceedings, and an assortment of letters and other documents.

The twofers make one essential error in interpreting the historical material, reading their own notions of “foreign influence” as being those of the Framers. They say that a foreign parent is a foreign influence, and therefore every concern that the Framers expressed about foreign influence (and there were many) equates to a concern about foreign parents. The historical record contradicts that view.

Pinckney and Col. Mason argued before the Convention the qualifications of a Senator. Madison records the debate on a motion to change the draft time that a Senator must be a citizen from four to fourteen years:

Mr. Pinkney. As the Senate is to have the power of making treaties & managing our foreign affairs, there is peculiar danger and impropriety in opening its door to those who have foreign attachments. He quoted the jealousy of the Athenians on this subject who made it death for any stranger to intrude his voice into their legislative proceedings.

George MasonCol. Mason highly approved of the policy of the motion Were it not that many not natives of this Country had acquired great merit during the revolution, he should be for restraining the eligibility into the Senate, to natives.

The concern with “foreign attachments” focused on those who were not natives or not recent immigrants rather than those with foreign parents. In fact, the word “parent” never appears anywhere in the papers of the Federal Convention relating to eligibility for anything or gauging foreign influence. (In fact, the word “parent” only appears six times and five of those deal with institutions, leaving only one human parent reference, and it is in the context of a parent being a responsible member of society who should be able to vote.)

Continuing this theme, the debate over qualifications to the House of Representatives also considered a native-born requirement. Again Madison records:

Mr. Wilson & Mr. Randolph moved to strike out “7 years” and insert “4 years,” as the requisite term of Citizenship to qualify for the House of Reps. Mr. Wilson said it was very proper the electors should govern themselves by this consideration; but unnecessary & improper that the Constitution should chain them down to it.

Eldridge GerryMr. Gerry wished that in future the eligibility might be confined to Natives. Foreign powers will intermeddle in our affairs, and spare no expence to influence them. Persons having foreign attachments will be sent among us & insinuated into our councils, in order to be made instruments for their purposes. Every one knows the vast sums laid out in Europe for secret services–He was not singular in these ideas. A great many of the most influential men in Massts. reasoned in the same manner.

Mr <Madison> seconded the motion. He wished to maintain the character of liberality which had been professed in all the Constitutions & publications of America. He wished to invite foreigners of merit & republican principles among us. America was indebted to emigration for her settlement & Prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture & the arts. There was a possible danger he admitted that men with foreign predilections might obtain appointments but it was by no means probable that it would happen in any dangerous degree. For the same reason that they would be attached to their native Country, our own people wd. prefer natives of this Country to them. Experience proved this to be the case. Instances were rare of a foreigner being elected by the people within any short space after his coming among us– If bribery was to be practised by foreign powers, it would not be attempted among the electors, but among the elected; and among natives having full Confidence of the people not among strangers who would be regarded with a jealous eye.

Here again we see the notion of attachment tied to ones native country, not parentage.

Despite the fact that the natural born citizenship clause itself was not debated by the Convention and no records survive of the committee discussion where it was added, we nevertheless have extensive records of the extended and contentious debate over the office of President. Col Mason noted:

In every Stage of the Question relative to the Executive, the difficulty of the subject and the diversity of the opinions concerning it have appeared. Nor have any of the modes of constituting that department been satisfactory.

Presidential eligibility was one of the last items to be decided. After debate, the draft constitution was turned over to the “Committee of Detail” to put their consensus into proper language. On August 22, the Committee of Detail added for the first time language that the President should be a citizen:  “he shall be of the age of thirty five years, and a Citizen “of the United States, and shall have been an Inhabitant “thereof for Twenty one years.”

George BancroftHistorian and Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft wrote in his History of the Formation of the Constitution of the United States (1884) (Volume 1 Page 346):

The idea then arose that no number of years could properly prepare a foreigner for the office of president1

I frankly do not know the source for Bancroft’s statement; he had access to manuscripts that I do not. However, I have no reason to question the statement, and it shows that the concern expressed by the Framers was to an attachment to the country defined by time in the country; “no number of years” clearly means one who has been a citizen his whole life.

I tried to find authentic sentiment from the Framers in support of the “two citizen parent” theory, but it is just not there. Yes, they were very concerned about foreign influence, but they never tied foreign influence to parentage. It was the place of birth that mattered in the United States.


1 The full quote from Bancroft is:

One question on the qualifications of the president was among the last to be decided. On the twenty-second of August the committee of detail, fixing the requisite age of the president at thirty-five, on their own motion and for the first time required that the president should be a citizen of the United States, and should have been an inhabitant of them for twenty-one years. The idea then arose that no number of years could properly prepare a foreigner for the office of president; but as men of other lands had spilled their blood in the cause of the United States, and had assisted at every stage of the formation of their institutions, the committee of states who were charged with all unfinished business proposed, on the fourth of September, that “no person except a natural-born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the the of the adoption of this constitution, should be eligible to the office of president,” and for the foreign-born proposed a reduction of the requisite years of residence to fourteen. On the seventh of September, the modification, with the restriction as to the age of the president, was unanimously adopted.

The underscored portion of this text was cited by Mr. Justice Fuller in his dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court decision of US v. Wong.

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35 Responses to The Framers on “foreign influence”

  1. avatar
    ballantine September 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Great article. Here are some more quotes making clear “foreigner” meant “foreign born”

    “Mr. WILSON read the clause in the Constitution of Pena. giving to foreigners after two years residence all the rights whatsoever of citizens, combined it with the article of Confederation making the Citizens of one State Citizens of all, inferred the obligation Pena. was under to maintain the faith thus pledged to her citizens of foreign birth, and the just complaints which her failure would authorize: He observed likewise that the Princes & States of Europe would avail themselves of such breach of faith to deter their subjects from emigrating to the U. S.”

    “Mr. BALDWIN could not enter into the force of the arguments agst. extending the disqualification to foreigners now Citizens. The discrimination of the place of birth, was not more objectionable than that of age which all had concurred in the propriety of.”

    “Mr. Wilson expressed himself feelingly on the same side. It might happen, he said, that he who had been thought worthy of being trusted with the framing of the Constitution, might be excluded from it. He had not been born in this country. He considered such exclusing as one of the most galling chains which the human mind could experience. It was wrong to deprive the government of the talents virtue and abilities of such foreigners as might chuse to remove to this country.”

  2. avatar
    Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter September 19, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    Dr. C:

    “Twofers” is brilliant!!! I hope the term gets really popular, so I can use it without looking like I just stole it from you.

    Congrats!

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  3. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy September 19, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    I first used the term way back in 2009 in my article:

    Birthers, Twofers and Proofers

    and it’s also in my glossary:

    http://www.obamaconspiracy.org/glossary/#twofer

    In any case, I would be gratified that anyone used the term.

    Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter: “Twofers” is brilliant!!! I hope the term gets really popular, so I can use it without looking like I just stole it from you.

  4. avatar
    ASK Esq September 19, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    It isn’t from any of the Framers, but, as i have pointed out before, Minor makes clear that, at birth, you can only be either a natural-born citizen or a foreigner:

    “The Constitution does not, in words, say who shall be natural-born citizens. Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common-law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners.”

    It is clear that the meaning was that, if you are born a foreigner, you are not a natural-born citizen, and vice versa. There is no reason to think that the Court did not have an understanding of what the terms meant to the Framers.

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy September 20, 2012 at 1:12 am #

    I’ve written a number of articles on the general subject of natural born eligibility, but I don’t recall anyone claiming that I took my quotations out of context, or misrepresented my sources. I don’t get substantive criticism. On the other hand, we’ve offered lots of substantive criticism of the other side and rarely do they even try to answer it.

  6. avatar
    The Magic M September 20, 2012 at 4:06 am #

    ASK Esq: it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens

    One could additionally argue that “These” refers to “became … upon their birth citizens”.
    Therefore, NBC = citizen at birth, another corroboration of what we’ve said all along.
    The first sentence only means “born in a country + citizen parents => citizen at birth”.

    In other words, this is neither an equation nor a direct conclusion (born in the country + citizen parents => NBC), but an transitive one: “born in the country + citizen parents => born citizens; born citizen = NBC, therefore born in the country + citizen parents => NBC”.

    Another thing I’ve always asked birthers about Minor is where it leaves people born to one citizen parent in the country or two citizen parents abroad.
    The literal restrictive reading of Minor that birthers favour would mean there are only two alternatives:
    * born in the country to two citizen parents = NBC
    * foreigners

    So following from that reading, people born in the country to just one citizen parent are foreigners.
    Since none of these people ever bothered to naturalize in the last 200 years, that means the chance is that some 50%, or 80%, or 95% of people in the US today are “foreigners” by that birther interpretation because somewhere down the line they had one parent who did not have two citizen parents himself.

    And again I wonder why most birther interpretations always end up with a major impact on the integrity of the US – “any judge can remove the President”, “any foreign country can decide who can be President”, “any foreign country’s laws precede US law” and now “the vast majority of people are not citizens”. Kinda makes you put on your tinfoil hat as to the birthers’ true motives…

  7. avatar
    realist September 20, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    Excellent piece Doc.

    It has been widely speculated, and written about by scholars, that the “natural born” clause was inserted to prevent people like (and even specifically) Baron von Steuben.

    http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/served/steuben.html

  8. avatar
    Dave B. September 20, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    I’m a heck of a lot less worried about foreign influence over decisions made at high levels in the U.S. government than I am about the pernicious influence of the good old all-American dollar.

  9. avatar
    Dave B. September 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter:
    Dr. C:

    “Twofers” is brilliant!!! I hope the term gets really popular, so I can use it without looking like I just stole it from you.

    As a variant, you could call ‘em “Toofers”, because they say you have to be born here, and have two citizen parents, too. And it looks goofier. My buddy Alinsky says that part’s important. With the birthers it’s unavoidable.

  10. avatar
    Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter September 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    DaveB:

    That is a good idea. My “Vattle Birthers” never really took off.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  11. avatar
    ellen September 20, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    It is important to show that the tw-fers are wrong on the legal definition of Natural Born Citizen, which Doc has done very well.

    But it seems insufficient to me. I want to prove that the two-fer case is un-American. By this I mean that they are throwing American principles away in their misguided zeal to prove that Obama is not eligible to be president.

    Have they forgotten these words from the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” ?

    Have they forgotten these words from the Gettysburg Address:

    “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

    Yet here are people who say that they are Americans who claim that they believe (I don’t know if they really do believe) that the writers of the Constitution did not hold that all men are in fact created equal. The two-fers claim that the writers of the Constitution really held that the US-born children of foreigners are NOT equal to the US-born children of US citizens.

    That should be pretty shocking to the millions upon millions of us whose parents or grandparents were not US citizens.

    Moreover, the two-fer philosophy holds that the writers of the US Constitution secretly believed that a huge category of people are not equal to others—without a shred of proof of that claim.

    There is proof that the writers did not believe that blacks were equal to whites, because of the two-thirds requirement in the constitution. And is some historical proof that the writers did not believe that Indians were equal to whites. But there is NO proof, no proof whatever, that they believed that the US-born children of foreigners are not equal to the US-born children of US citizens.

    IF the writers of the Declaration said that all men were created equal, and if Lincoln said that the civil war was fought as a test of the proposition that all men are created equal, then it is profoundly un-American to claim that the writers of the US Constitution secretly held that the US-born children of foreigners are not equal to the US-born children of US citizens.

    And, if the case ever got to the US Supreme Court (which it won’t because the court will simply reject birther appeals—for main reason that it rejects many appeals, that it agrees with the ruling of the lower court), you can imagine the reaction of Alito, and Scalia, and Roberts (whose mother’s maiden name was Podrasky).

    I can imagine Scalia’s words: “Are you seriously claiming that Washington and Hamilton and Madison and Ben Franklin did not believe that I am just as good as a US citizen born of US parents? Are you saying that if my parents were naturalized before I was born or after I was born it would make me a different kind of citizen? Are you seriously saying that you believe that? Well, if you don’t believe it, what makes you think that Washington did either?”

    It is important to show that neither the US Constitution nor the US Supreme Court has ever held that two US citizen parents are required to be a Natural Born Citizen, or for that matter that even one US citizen parent is required, but focusing on the law alone is not enough.

  12. avatar
    G September 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    I agree with you completely Ellen. Out of the different Birther beliefs and myths, I think the Two-fers have always had a more racially-based motivation, which obviously ties into, but goes way beyond their gut-opposition to Obama.

    These folks don’t want to lose a “white America” – period. They are fearful of the inevitable day that they are no longer a dominating majority. Xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment are a major driver here. When most of the rest of Birtherism starts to crumble and dissipate, the Two-fer element is most likely to try to hang on and spread their legal mumbo-jumbo falsehoods, Sov Cit style. They have a longer term goal and fear: more types of “brown people” presidents and “anchor babies”… These are the folks that truly don’t want to see a Rubio or Jindal try to run for that office…

    ellen: Yet here are people who say that they are Americans who claim that they believe (I don’t know if they really do believe) that the writers of the Constitution did not hold that all men are in fact created equal. The two-fers claim that the writers of the Constitution really held that the US-born children of foreigners are NOT equal to the US-born children of US citizens.

  13. avatar
    Rickey September 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm #

    realist:

    It has been widely speculated, and written about by scholars, that the “natural born” clause was inserted to prevent people like (and even specifically) Baron von Steuben.

    Baron von Steuben’s Hudson Valley headquarters building is a short walk from my house.

    http://cc.houlihanlawrence.com/aspengine/HHL/out/files/121_308775_1.jpg

    http://cc.houlihanlawrence.com/aspengine/HHL/out/files/121_308775_2.jpg

    It’s on the market for a mere $979,000.

  14. avatar
    Lupin September 21, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    Excuse my relative ignorance but doesn’t the fact that Madison (a) was granted French citizenship, and (b) accepted it enthusiastically, all before he ran and was elected for president definitely drives the stake once and for all though the notion that a president can’t be a dual citizen?

    At this point, there’s nothing left to discuss, is there? You had a French citizen in the White House. (Possibly three, but Madison is the best, clearcut case.)

  15. avatar
    G September 21, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Well stated!

    Lupin:
    Excuse my relative ignorance but doesn’t the fact that Madison (a) was granted French citizenship, and (b) accepted it enthusiastically, all before he ran and was elected for president definitely drives the stake once and for all though the notion that a president can’t be a dual citizen?

    At this point, there’s nothing left to discuss, is there? You had a French citizen in the White House. (Possibly three, but Madison is the best, clearcut case.)

  16. avatar
    Lupin September 21, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    G:
    Well stated!

    Thank you. I think at this point the only thing we need to do is shout “Madison” at anyone who starts mumbling about allegiances, divided loyalties, etc.

  17. avatar
    Lupin September 21, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    And let me add that in the 18th century France was a world power with possible areas of conflict with the US, and having an enthusiastic French citizen as president was far more conflictual than Obama being British or Kenyan today.

    Madison could very well have been a French “taupe”. :-)

  18. avatar
    G September 21, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Another very salient point! Kudos.

    Lupin:
    And let me add that in the 18th century France was a world power with possible areas of conflict with the US, and having an enthusiastic French citizen as president was far more conflictual than Obama being British or Kenyan today.

    Madison could very well have been a French “taupe”.

  19. avatar
    Z September 21, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    My mother was birther curious. After the long form was released, she let that go, though she still despises Obama’s policies as socialism. Go figure.

    One small success I had with her occurred when people here were down on France (she in particular kept on France’s case, saying they should remember we saved them in WWII). She had studied French as a girl, I should add. I told her, hello, France helped us during our Revolution. I even mentioned Lafayette, who has been mentioned elsewhere on this blog. She said she hadn’t known that. Perhaps she forgot. Anyway, she got off France’s case.

    Lupin:
    And let me add that in the 18th century France was a world power with possible areas of conflict with the US, and having an enthusiastic French citizen as president was far more conflictual than Obama being British or Kenyan today.

  20. avatar
    HistorianDude September 21, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    The word “foreigner” is almost completely absent from the corpus of American law. There is a reason for that. Generally, a foreigner is a non-citizen or national who is also not currently present in the country, in contrast with a “alien” who is a non-citizen or national currently on American soil. The law tends to be silent on the former since there is really no effective US jurisdiction over such a person. The long arm of American law does not statutorily extend past our own borders.

    However, the word “alien” is ubiquitous within the US Code… since of course an alien present on US soil is under our jurisdiction. And more than merely use the term, the US Code explicitly defines it.

    8 USC 1101 – Definitions

    (a) (3) The term “alien” means any person not a citizen or national of the United States.

    Whatever Obama’s “influence” might be, good or bad, it cannot be “foreign influence.” He is not a “foreigner.”

  21. avatar
    HistorianDude September 21, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    Lupin:
    Excuse my relative ignorance but doesn’t the fact that Madison (a) was granted French citizenship, and (b) accepted it enthusiastically, all before he ran and was elected for president definitely drives the stake once and for all though the notion that a president can’t be a dual citizen?

    Madison and Jefferson both. Worse… while Jefferson was Vice President we were in an undeclared war with his adopted country.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quasi-War

    The US Congress (largely composed still of “Framers”) was unconcerned enough to then go on and elect him President twice.

  22. avatar
    G September 21, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Thanks for those informative posts Historian Dude!!!

    It is always great to see and read posts from you here. Glad to see you back! :)

  23. avatar
    G September 21, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    Thanks for relaying all that. Enjoyed the France anecdote too!

    Glad to see that your mom was sensible enough to eventually drop birtherism.

    Z: My mother was birther curious. After the long form was released, she let that go, though she still despises Obama’s policies as socialism. Go figure.

  24. avatar
    Lupin September 22, 2012 at 4:21 am #

    Z: One small success I had with her occurred when people here were down on France (she in particular kept on France’s case, saying they should remember we saved them in WWII).

    When a person sees a friend stumbling into a ditch, he tries to stop him. That’s what friends do. :-)

    We now now that Monsieur de Villepin’s intervention at the UN was substantially correct while, alas, that of General Colin Powell was not.

    Anecdotally, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US Ambassador in Paris met with our then head of state General de Gaulle to show him the photos of the Cuban missile site taken by the US spy planes in order to elicit France’s cooperation at the UN.

    According to what I’ve read (incl. de Gaulle’s memoirs), de Gaulle did not ask to see the photos and told the US Ambassador that the word of the US president was good enough for him, and that France would support the US’ position.

    Cynics might claim de Gaulle had already obtained independent confirmation from our own secret services, but the gesture is nevertheless remarkable.

    One of the many negative consequences of the role of the Bush administration is that that bond of trust is now gone.

  25. avatar
    G September 22, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    Lupin, what are your personal opinions of the personalities of your own Presidents in France and how they’ve contributed or hurt the bond of trust as well?

    From an American perspective, both Sarcozy and Chirac have come across as pompous A-holes and have contributed to damaging the bond between our two nations. I don’t recall any similar negative feelings here against Mitterand, who was the face of France for such a long period. I’m sure there are always corners of criticism, but to my perspective and recollection, America retained a fairly positive view of France and its people during his terms.

    I’m curious as to how the French view their own leaders and their accomplishments, both from a domestic and foreign affairs perspective.

    Lupin: Cynics might claim de Gaulle had already obtained independent confirmation from our own secret services, but the gesture is nevertheless remarkable.
    One of the many negative consequences of the role of the Bush administration is that that bond of trust is now gone.

  26. avatar
    Lupin September 22, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    G: From an American perspective, both Sarcozy and Chirac have come across as pompous A-holes and have contributed to damaging the bond between our two nations. I don’t recall any similar negative feelings here against Mitterand, who was the face of France for such a long period. I’m sure there are always corners of criticism, but to my perspective and recollection, America retained a fairly positive view of France and its people during his terms.

    Well, both Sarkozy and Chirac *were* pompous A-holes so your perception of them is all too correct!

    Chirac, in a more friendly way, was like the opinionated loudmouth redneck uncle who is at the same time the life of the party at a wedding; you can’t really hate him, but he wasn’t a very good president. Sarko, OTOH, is/was just a mean-spirited, unprincipled opportunist who wished he could have been Tony Blair.

    As I’ve grown older, my views about de Gaulle, which were mostly negative in my youth, have changed, and I’ve now grown to respect his statesmanship, his foresight and principledness. Mitterand was also a statesman with foresight and vision, although he was less principled than de Gaulle.

    (All this IMHO of course.)

    I was in the US in 1981 when he was elected on a joint Socialist/Communist platform, and some of our American clients were really panicking, expecting France to turn into a collectivist Gulag overnight. It was a bit funny and sad at the same time. It took Mitterand a year or so to jettison the hard-left and, after that, he generally did a fairly good job at managing the country.

    Unsurprisingly, the Bush/Cheney regime only hurt the US amongst political circles abroad, which is why there was such joy when Obama got elected. Honestly, I think that’s what got him the Nobel prize.

    As I’ve mentioned before, the worse blow to the US reputation in France wasn’t 9/11 (a tremendous amount of sympathy was generated), Iraq or Abu Ghraib (the French having had Algeria are cynical about that sort of things), but the lack of immediate & massive response to Katrina. That really shook people up.

  27. avatar
    G September 22, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    LMAO! Your description of both of them is pretty much in line with how they are viewed here… good to see that we’ve gotten at least that right about our understanding of our overseas bretheren. ;)

    Lupin: Well, both Sarkozy and Chirac *were* pompous A-holes so your perception of them is all too correct!
    Chirac, in a more friendly way, was like the opinionated loudmouth redneck uncle who is at the same time the life of the party at a wedding; you can’t really hate him, but he wasn’t a very good president. Sarko, OTOH, is/was just a mean-spirited, unprincipled opportunist who wished he could have been Tony Blair.

  28. avatar
    G September 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    Thank you for your insights about these two as well! It really helps me get a better perspective on them, seeing your POV.

    Lupin: As I’ve grown older, my views about de Gaulle, which were mostly negative in my youth, have changed, and I’ve now grown to respect his statesmanship, his foresight and principledness. Mitterand was also a statesman with foresight and vision, although he was less principled than de Gaulle.
    (All this IMHO of course.)
    I was in the US in 1981 when he was elected on a joint Socialist/Communist platform, and some of our American clients were really panicking, expecting France to turn into a collectivist Gulag overnight. It was a bit funny and sad at the same time. It took Mitterand a year or so to jettison the hard-left and, after that, he generally did a fairly good job at managing the country.

  29. avatar
    G September 22, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    I think you are onto something here.

    Trust me, everyone here, including Obama was scratching their heads in puzzlement for why he was being awarded the Nobel Peace prize right away.

    Sadly, I think you were right – what it really was meant was a symbol of expression by the rest of the world that they were breathing a collective sigh of relief that GWB was gone and that we did not elect McCain to follow with his bumbling and abrasive neo-con policies.

    That incident alone speaks volumes about how badly the GWB administration damaged the US reputation with the rest of the world…

    Lupin: Unsurprisingly, the Bush/Cheney regime only hurt the US amongst political circles abroad, which is why there was such joy when Obama got elected. Honestly, I think that’s what got him the Nobel prize.

  30. avatar
    G September 22, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    Yeah, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back here too… Katrina really was the glaring wake up call to just how failed the GWB admin was… The worst part about it is that we were still stuck with him for three more years after that. It was very depressing.

    Lupin: As I’ve mentioned before, the worse blow to the US reputation in France wasn’t 9/11 (a tremendous amount of sympathy was generated), Iraq or Abu Ghraib (the French having had Algeria are cynical about that sort of things), but the lack of immediate & massive response to Katrina. That really shook people up.

  31. avatar
    Lupin September 23, 2012 at 4:10 am #

    G: Sadly, I think you were right – what it really was meant was a symbol of expression by the rest of the world that they were breathing a collective sigh of relief that GWB was gone and that we did not elect McCain to follow with his bumbling and abrasive neo-con policies.

    From what I read in the papers here, there is a certain sense of “befuddlement” about Romney. Our elites don’t fear him as much as the McCain/Palin combo (rightly or wrongly), but they don’t seem to know what to think about him, alternating between (I’m simplifying) a cunning liar or a fool.

  32. avatar
    Keith September 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Lupin: From what I read in the papers here, there is a certain sense of “befuddlement” about Romney. Our elites don’t fear him as much as the McCain/Palin combo (rightly or wrongly), but they don’t seem to know what to think about him, alternating between (I’m simplifying) a cunning liar or a fool.

    Perhaps both?

  33. avatar
    G September 23, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    I atrribute that to the fact that nobody knows what he actually really believes or stands for. He has only demonstrated that he’s a pathological opportunist that seems to only say what he thinks a crowd wants to hear.

    I argue against those who assume that he is really a “moderate” because of his campaign for Governor of MA. If you review that campaign and his record in light of his current actions, even that seems like he was merely telling audiences what he thought they wanted to hear back then…

    So yeah, it is hard to know what to think about someone, when their positions are nothing but ever-shifting clay. To me, that sets huge alarm bells off, that he is someone who cannot be trusted on anything he says.

    Lupin: From what I read in the papers here, there is a certain sense of “befuddlement” about Romney. Our elites don’t fear him as much as the McCain/Palin combo (rightly or wrongly), but they don’t seem to know what to think about him, alternating between (I’m simplifying) a cunning liar or a fool.

  34. avatar
    Keith September 23, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    G: I atrribute that to the fact that nobody knows what he actually really believes or stands for. He has only demonstrated that he’s a pathological opportunist that seems to only say what he thinks a crowd wants to hear.

    Exactly.

    The “Etch-A-Sketch” remark from his campaign manager(?) early in the primary season was a remarkably candid insight into his ‘style’.

  35. avatar
    G September 23, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    Agreed. As was Jon Huntsman’s description of him: “a well oiled weather vane”…

    Keith: The “Etch-A-Sketch” remark from his campaign manager(?) early in the primary season was a remarkably candid insight into his ‘style’.