Concerning “Freedom Fries” and “Freedom Toast”

My elementary school, School #64 in Baltimore, was located at the corner of Garrison Road and Liberty Heights Avenue. It wasn’t until high school, when I read about World War I and the associated anti-German hysteria, that I learned that “Liberty Heights” had replaced “German Heights” in 1917. By then I knew enough about Stalinism to recognize that sort of name-changing as one of the hallmarks of totalitarian thinking.

When I saw reports of various hot-air sources calling for changing the “French” to “freedom” in terms such as “French fries” and “French toast,” I thought it was just another silly thing to say. It didn’t occur to me that anyone would actually be stupid and nasty enough to do anything about it.

I owe an apology to Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, and Walter Jones (R-NC), for underestimating their capacity for stupid nastiness. It won’t happen again.

In their press release, the two backwoods yahoos remark, “This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France.” In the midst of our disagreement, let me generously pick out the one word in that sentence I agree with: “small.” I am withholding my boycott of Carolina moonshine and Cincinnati Reds baseball games on TV pending the repudiation of this action by the Governors of those two states.

Update: Julia at Sisyphus Shrugged wants to know whether a Yahoo is going to rename itself “The Honorable Gentleman from North Carolina.”

Tim Noah of Slate has some good humorous commentary, and Eugene Volokh offers something more somber.

Look, folks, our government is having a diplomatic dispute with the government of France. That’s not the fault of any particular Frenchman, any more than our policies in Vietnam, the Congo, or Chile were my fault, so boycotting French wine, for example, is completely unjustified. And it’s certainly not any sort of reason for us to distance ourselves from France as a cultural entity. Enough with the childish temper tantrums, already. Let’s get back to business.

Footnote A reader asks huffily what the difference is between my boycott of 21st Century Insurance and the boycott of French wines criticized above. Simple: 21st Century did something I think is wrong. I know nothing of the political actions or affiliations, if any, of the grape-growers and vintners of France. If you want to find out which companies make contributions to Chirac’s party and boycott them, be my guest; I won’t have a word to say about it. But to strike blindly at Frenchpeople for being French is just as bad as striking at — to choose a case not at random — Israelis because you disapprove of the actions of their government. The world has plenty of genuine national (as opposed to governmental) enmities; there’s no call to be adding new ones.

Update Words are actions; actions have consequences.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: