Senator Trent Lott recently stumped for Bush in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Reagan declared his campaign by condemning “welfare moms” and championing “states; rights” not far from the graves of murdered civil rights activists:

— U.S. Sen. Trent Lott today told an enthusiastic Neshoba County Fair crowd that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is “a French-speaking socialist from Boston, Massaschusetts, who is more liberal than Ted Kennedy.” It was a line that Lott said he’d been working on for a while, and it produced loud applause from hundreds of Mississippians gathered at Founders’ Square, the centerpiece of the historic fair.

Obviously a vile remark. Boilerplate red-baiting aside, condemning a man for speaking French is a cynical appeal to isolationist nativism. It’s an insult to this country to suggest that we’re stronger if our leaders can’t communicate with the rest of the world in any language but their own. But degrading the speaking of French isn’t just an insult to the international community. It’s an attack on the most vulnerable members of our national community, those who’ve immigrated here, increasing numbers of whom come from France and former French colonies, like the large and growing Haitian community here in Florida. An attack on Americans who speak French is simply another incarnation of the less-politically-expedient attacks on those who speak Spanish and the more-politically-expedient attacks on those who speak Arabic. This isn’t populism – this is a divisive attack on the populace. Don’t hold your breath for our “uniter” of a President, whose campaign equates criticism of his record with “political hate speech,” to condemn Senator Lott’s chosen attack on his challenger.

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