[[P R O T E S T S]] * Eat hearty, all you right-wing congresspeople who haven’t already disavowed your support for George W. Bush’s ultimately disastrous Iraq war. French fries are back! So is French toast! In the battle of symbolism, the hyper-patriotic yahoos have finally relented, ceding the day to convention and common sense--something not much on view in Washington, D.C., these days.
You’ll remember that, in March 2003, a couple of Republican House members, Bob Ney of Ohio and Walter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina, announced that all references to “French fries” and “French toast” would be expunged from the menus of cafeterias and snack bars operated by the House of Representatives. Those items would heretofore be known as “freedom fries” and “freedom toast.” This denotative change came in the aftermath of France’s hesitancy to endorse Bush’s proposed military intervention in Iraq, which the White House claimed was necessary because Saddam Hussein was building up stockpiles of “weapons of mass destruction” (something we now know was not true). “This action today,” Ney declared in a statement, “is a small, but symbolic, effort to show the strong displeasure many on Capitol Hill have with our so-called ally, France.” (Regardless of the fact that French fries were invented in Belgium.)
But that was then. This is now, and as The Washington Times reported this morning, “The fries on Capitol Hill are French again. So is the breakfast toast in the congressional cafeterias, with both fries and toast having been liberated from the appellation ‘freedom.’” Nobody seems willing to take credit for this retreat (“We don’t have a comment for your story,” says a Ney spokeswoman), but it was evidently the responsibility of Representative Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Michigan), who chairs the House Administration Committee. And, curiously, there seems to be no constituency for retaining the “freedom” labels. You’d think that the righteous effrontery and energy that resulted in those foodstuffs being renamed in the first place might linger even today. However, much has changed since the prez and Dick Cheney launched their invasion of Iraq, claiming that the Americans would be “greeted as liberators,” with cheers and flowers. For one thing, close to 2,600 U.S. troops have been killed in Saddam’s homeland. For another, the taxpayer tab for Bush’s war is climbing by “at least $200 million each and every day,” according to MSNBC economics correspondent Martin Wolk, and threatens to reach $1 trillion to $2 trillion.
On top of all that, the winds have shifted for “freedom fries” sponsors Jones and Ney. More than a year ago, Representative Jones quite publicly turned against Bush’s bellicose policies, saying the United States had launched its war against Iraq “with no justification,” and calling for a planned withdrawal. Meanwhile, Ney, once the powerful chair of the House Administration Committee, has been implicated in the influence-buying scandal that continues to grow around former GOP “super-lobbyist” Jack Abramoff, and is under investigation for bribery. Ney is now considered to be “the most vulnerable incumbent of either party up for reelection this November,” according to Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza. This, in a year when Republicans--suffering in public opinion as a result of White House scandals, displeasure with Middle East violence, rising gas prices, and an unpopular, distrusted president from their own party--are having a tough time just holding onto their majorities in both houses of Congress, much less adding to them; and when Ohio, in particular, is trending Democratic, thanks in part to the indictment of Republican Governor Bob Taft on four criminal misdemeanor counts and the coming trials of four men--one of them a prominent GOP moneyman--mixed up in a scandal involving funds missing from the state’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. It’s probably not in Ney’s political interests to act too arrogantly toward France, Germany, Belgium, or any other nation that opposed Bush’s increasingly unpopular war, even if his battles are symbolic in nature.
“Now that they’ve changed the name of the French fries back, maybe [Republicans] will admit their other foreign policy mistakes were wrong, too,” scoffs Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, in The Washington Times.
Don’t hold your breath.