Trying to explain Joe Wilson to France

This morning I had a very pleasant breakfast at the usual place with Philippe Boulet-Gercourt, the U.S. Bureau Chief for Le Nouvel Observateur, France’s largest weekly newsmagazine. I forgot to take a picture of him, but I found the video above from 2008 (I think), in which I think he’s telling the folks back home that Obama was going to win the election. That’s what “Obama va gagner” means, right? Alas, I have no French, although I’ve always felt that I understand Segolene Royal perfectly. Fortunately, Philippe’s English is superb.

It was my first encounter with a French journalist since I shot this video of Cyprien d’Haese shooting video of me back in 2008, in a supremely Marshall McLuhan moment. If you’ll recall, I was interviewed by a lot of national and foreign journalists in the weeks and months leading up to the presidential primaries here. (You may also recall that a lot of them came to me because of my blog, not because I was editorial page editor of the state’s largest newspaper. Philippe, of course, also contacted me because of the blog, although he was aware of my former association, and expressed his kind concern for my joblessness.)

He had come to Columbia from New York, which has been his home for 14 years, to ask about “this summer uprising among the conservatives, peaking with the Joe Wilson incident,” as he had put it in his e-mail.

Well, to begin with, I disputed his premise. I don’t think there has been a resurgence of conservatives or of the Republican Party, which is still groping for its identity in the wake of last year’s election. What we’ve seen in the case of Joe Wilson — the outpouring of support, monetary and otherwise, after the moment in which he embarrassed the 2nd District — was merely the concentration of political elements that are always there, and are neither stronger nor weaker because of what Joe has said and done. Just as outrage over Joe’s outburst has expressed itself (unfortunately) in an outpouring (I’m trying to see how many words with the prefix “out-” I can use in this sentence) of material support for the unimpressive Rob Miller, the incident was a magnet for the forces of political polarization, in South Carolina and across the country.

What I tried to do is provide historical and sociological context for the fact that Joe Wilson is the natural representative for the 2nd District, and will probably be re-elected (unless someone a lot stronger than Rob Miller emerges and miraculously overcomes his huge warchest). It’s not about Obama (although resistance to the “expansion of government” that he represents is a factor) and it’s not about race (although the fact that districts are gerrymandered to make the 2nd unnaturally white, and the 6th unnaturally black, helps define the districts and their representatives).

In other words, I said a lot of stuff that I said back in this post.

We spoke about a number of other topics as well, some related, some not:

He asked about the reaction in South Carolina to Obama’s election. I told him that obviously, the Democratic minority — which had been energized to an unprecedented degree in the primary, having higher turnout than the Republicans for the first time in many years — was jubilant. The reaction among the Republican minority was more like resignation. Republicans had known that McCain would win South Carolina, but Obama would win the election. I explained that McCain’s win here did not express a rejection of Obama (as some Democrats have chosen to misinterpret), but simply political business as usual — it would have been shocking had the Republican, any Republican, not won against any national Democrat. I spoke, as I explained to him, from the unusual perspective of someone who liked both Obama and McCain very much, but voted for McCain. I think I drew the distinction fairly well between what I think and what various subsets of Republicans and Democrats in South Carolina think…

That got us on the topic of McCain-Bush in 2000, because as I explained to Philippe, I was destined to support McCain even over someone I liked as much as Obama, because I had waited eight years for the opportunity to make up for what happened here in 2000. Philippe agreed that the world would have been a better place had McCain been elected then, but I gather that he subscribes to the conventional wisdom (held by many of you here on the blog) that the McCain of 2008 was much diminished.

Philippe understood 2000, but as a Frenchman, he had trouble understanding how the country re-elected Bush in 2004 (And let me quickly say, for those of you who may be quick to bridle at the French, that Philippe was very gentlemanly about this, the very soul of politeness). So I explained to him how I came to write an endorsement of Bush again in 2004 — a very negative endorsement which indicted him for being wrong about many things, but in the end an endorsement. There was a long explanation of that, and a short one. Here’s the short one: John Kerry. And Philippe understood why a newspaper that generally reflects its state (close to three-fourths of those we endorsed during my tenure won their general election contests) would find it hard to endorse Kerry, once I put it that way. (As those of you who pay attention know, under my leadership The State endorsed slightly more Democrats than Republicans overall, but never broke its string of endorsing Republicans for the presidency, although we came close in 2008.)

Anyway, when we finished our long breakfast (I hadn’t eaten much because I was talking too much, drinking coffee all the while) I gave him a brief “tour” of the Midlands as seen from the 25th floor of Columbia’s tallest building, then gave him numbers for several other sources who might be helpful. He particularly was interested in folks from Joe’s Lexington County base, as well as some political science types, so I referred him to:

  • Rep. Kenny Bingham, the S.C. House Majority Leader who recently held a “Welcome Home” event for Joe Wilson at his (Kenny’s) home.
  • Rep. Nikki Haley, who until recently was the designated Mark Sanford candidate for governor, before she had occasion to distance herself.
  • Sen. Nikki Setzler (I gave him all the Lexington County Nikkis I knew), who could describe the county’s politics from the perspective of the minority party.
  • Blease Graham, the USC political science professor who recently retired but remained plugged in and knowledgeable. (Philippe remarked upon Blease’s unusual name, which started me on a tangent about his ancestor Cole Blease, Ben Tillman, N.G. Gonzales, etc.)
  • Walter Edgar, the author of the definitive history of our state.
  • Neal Thigpen, the longtime political scientist at Francis Marion University who tends to comment from a Republican perspective.
  • Jack Bass, the ex-journalist and political commentator known for his biography of Strom Thurmond and for his liberal Democratic point of view.

I also suggested he stop in at the Gervais Street Starbucks for a downtown Columbia perspective, and the Sunset Restaurant in West Columbia.

I look forward to reading his article, although I might have to get some of y’all to help me with understanding it. With my background in Spanish and two years of Latin I can generally understand French better when written than spoken, but I still might need some help…

24 thoughts on “Trying to explain Joe Wilson to France

  1. Brad Warthen

    Ack! When I followed my link to the post from 2008 in which I put up video of a French TV guy shooting video of ME (a favorite absurd moment), the video’s not there any more! I’m afraid that was one that I posted on’s server rather than YouTube. I had enough trouble keeping track of my videos there that I eventually went back to YouTube before I left the paper, but some of my stuff stayed in that limbo, which is a shame. Maybe I can find the original footage when I go home tonight…

  2. Lee Muller

    If this French guy wants to become a real reporter, he will have to talk to real subjects of the “conservative uprising”, not another former reporter.

    He has to learn that the opinions of the actual participants are facts, and the opinion of an observer like Brad Warthen is just another opinion.

  3. Lee Muller

    Your list of other former newspaper reporters, two history professors, some moderate Republicans and liberal Democrats?

    I guess Brad doesn’t know the names of any conservatives in South Carolina, like the organizers of the Tea Parties.

  4. Brad Warthen

    Take note, folks — to Lee, Kenny and Nikki are not conservatives. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    Now, to change the tone… In response to a quick summary of this post — “Trying, to the best of my ability, to explain Joe Wilson to France…” — Doug Ross posted a funny response:
    “Probably easier than doing the reverse…”

    How true…

  5. Lee Muller

    Try to name six long-time conservatives in the Midlands, or six organizers of the Tea Party demonstrations in this state.

    Anyone, reporter or historian, who cannot do that off the top of his head, really shouldn’t be opining on conservatism.

    Real conservatives know that Kenny and Nikki are not conservative enough to undo the damage of West, Riley, and Hodges, and they may not get enough independent votes to be elected, either.

  6. Burl Burlingame

    “Lee Muller” is there to bait you. It’s the old switcheroo, using push-propaganda. Pretty obvious once you figure out his role here.

  7. kbfenner

    Le Shoppe Tarte parlez francais. un petit peu. Her mother-in-law is French, if that would help.

    My second language is German, alas….

    The French stay thin by drinking coffee instead of eating, I see.

    Was it The Guardian’s headline “how could 58 million Americans be so dumb?”

  8. Lee Muller

    Paris rejects ‘Obama-style’ stimulus program – too socialist

    New York Times
    Published: Monday, February 2, 2009

    LYON — Prime Minister François Fillon on Monday rejected demands that the French government seek to stimulate consumer spending, rather than follow his plan to stimulate corporate and infrastructure investment, to lift France out of its economic slump.

    “It would be irresponsible to chose another policy, which would increase our country’s indebtedness without having more infrastructure and increased competitiveness in the end,” Fillon said in a speech in Lyon.

    More than 1.1 million people took to the streets across France last Thursday, according to the Interior Ministry, with unions putting the number of protesters at 2.5 million, to call on President Nicolas Sarkozy to stop cutting government jobs, increase the minimum wage and spend more on households as the economy enters its first recession since 1993.

    Opponents of the government have been calling for an “Obama-style” stimulus plan, one that puts money directly into the pockets of working people.

  9. martin

    Brad, I think you may vastly underestimate the toxicity of “Lee Muller’s” posts on a personal blog that attracts the vastly smaller number of readers/contributors than the blog of the editorial page editor of The State did.

    He was fairly diluted there. I assume you can check the number of posts that each person makes. I bet “Lee Muller” is a predominant voice here.

    You may need to consider that for someone coming in to read what’s up and finding “Lee, Lee, Lee”, it can be a real turnoff. You may have a lot of people saying, “what’s the point?”

  10. Brad Warthen

    Lee would probably be reassured to know that while I may prefer LOOKING at La Segolene, I probably would have voted for Sarkozy. I think. It’s hard to know for sure, since I am not French, was not there, and really didn’t follow that election closely enough to say for sure. But when I do read about European politics, I tend to agree far more with the center-right parties (such as Christian Democrats), and occasionally center-left (Tony Blair’s New Labour) than with the Socialists, by far.

    Now, in order to thoroughly irritate my liberal friends, let me tell you that when linking above to the 2004 Bush endorsement, I went back and read it, and I still think it was pretty good, under the circumstances (and “under the circumstances” is a qualification that must be applied to everything ever written by the hand of Man, from the Gospels to a grocery list). I hated having to write it, because I hated the fact that the choice was between Bush (yuch!) and Kerry (bleah!). But given that odious set of choices, I managed to say the things that needed to be said about the ways Bush had botched things (including Iraq), while at the same time explaining why we could not go with someone who would almost certainly pull our troops precipitately out of Iraq at a time that would ensure the worst possible results for our national security. And that overrode all the things we were ticked off at Bush about.

    Those of you who think we shouldn’t have been in Iraq will never agree, of course. Nor are those same friends likely to agree with me that even if we SHOULDN’T have gone into Iraq, it would have been a disastrous mistake to abandon the effort at that point. But I believe both of those things, particularly the second one.

    In light of those considerations — and they WERE the operant considerations — I think the editorial was as good as could have been written on behalf of The State under such sorry circumstances.

    Thinking back on how bad the choices were in 2004, I am again reminded just how blessed the country was (from my point of view, at least) in the 2008 election, with BOTH parties having nominated men whom I could vote for. Those of you who still don’t appreciate my position on Iraq, or who fail to consider decisions within the time frame in which they are made, will probably remain confused by that statement. You’ll say, “But Obama was always more clearly against our involvement in Iraq than Kerry was.” True. But by late 2008 that was a moot point. Whether McCain or Obama had been elected, by that time we were going to be executing an orderly withdrawal from Iraq under the conditions of having succeeded against the insurgency. Indeed, if W. had been able to serve a third term, the same thing would have happened. And Obama is no fool. He’s enough of a pragmatist that he would not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by pulling out too quickly. (Something I can’t say about Kerry; I would never trust his constancy or good sense on a matter of national security; he would never have had the courage that Obama does to stand up to his own antiwar wing in the cause of prudence.)

    Things could still fall apart in Iraq — or indeed, in any part of the world that has its problems — but its fate no longer hung in the balance in 2008 in quite the way it did in 2004.

    I’m going to stop now. Can you tell that I succumbed today to the mistake of drinking coffee in the afternoon?…

  11. Brad Warthen

    Sorry, Martin. I’m not sure what to do about Lee, though.

    You know, I once banned him from the other blog. But that was back when he used just “Lee,” and I allow far greater latitude to anyone who uses his full name. I’ve got written rules to that effect and everything.

    Which brings us to an interesting point: One of our regulars recently brought to my attention the fact that “Lee Muller” might be this individual’s first and MIDDLE names, not his last name. Which would affect his rights and privileges here on the blog.

    How about it, Lee — is “Lee Muller” your full, real name?

  12. Lee Muller

    Brad, you and I had telephone and personal conversations several times when I wrote letters to The State. What is this latest pretense of yours?

    It is not just here, but everywhere, that intolerant bigots who misname themselves “liberal” are the first to smear the posting of inconvenient facts as “toxic”, call for censorship of news and banning of of those who debate them. When these tactics don’t work, they try to shout down the voices of reason or, as anonymous ‘martin’ confesses above, to “dilute” the truth with noise.

  13. Burl Burlingame

    Aw, leave Lee alone. “Lee Muller” is just earning his pay. He’s clearly a Democrat counter-propagandist, hired to say crazy things to make Republicans and conservatives look crazy. Karl Rove invented this strategy, so the Dems might use well use it as well. It’s working too!

  14. Lee Muller

    You journalists can just claim “anonymous sources”, but we amateurs provide citations to our facts.

  15. doug_ross

    In the insulated world of what passes itself off as journalism today, journalists have come to believe that the people who talk about doing things are the same as people who are actually doing things.

    Based on an IM conversation I had with Lee, I am fairly certain he has done all the stuff he says he’s done.

    This country exists because of people who are out there doing, building, inventing, researching, testing, exploring. It wasn’t built by people who sit around talking about what the government should be doing to limit the doers or take away what they have earned to give to people who don’t do anything.

    I spent the past week in Toronto and read the Globe and Mail daily. What an excellent paper that is! The other day had two front page stories that brought a smile to the face of this Libertarian:

    1) The big scandal of the week was that the leader of the government health ministry resigned because they had spent over $1 billion tax dollars on a electronic health record system and had nothing to show for it. And it was determined that two thirds of the government contracts on the project were sweetheart deals awarded without a bidding process.

    That’s what we can expect (and already see with Medicare fraud) if the government takes a larger role in the U.S. system. More money to steal.

    2) The Canadian winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for Physics was quoted at the top of the front page story as saying he had to leave Canada in order to go to the U.S. to do the research work that led to his invention of the technology that is used in digital cameras. Why did he have to leave? Because the Canadian government put too many restrictions on his work with all the red tape and bureaucracy.

    That’s what makes me laugh when I hear people talking about how we need to be more like Canada or Denmark.

  16. Lee Muller

    Matt Drudge is the leading journalist today, more influential than any single newspaper.

    Rush Limbaugh has a larger audience than all the news networks combined.

    A thousand news blogs do more real journalistic research every day than all the newspapers in America. Blogs and websites run by intellectuals have given forums to commentators who are far superior to the partisan mouthpieces who fill every editorial page and New York TV “news” stage with their staged news.

    All this is possible because journalism became a good old boy network, where few of them work anymore at researching a story or learning a subject. They think their feelings are enough to skate them by, because they only listen to the applause of each other. They don’t respect their readers, viewers and listeners; they only see them as suckers to be hustled a pacifying yarn about how great the current ruler’s next program will be.

  17. Lee Muller

    Wrong person.

    So tell the left-wing crazies in your blog not to spray paint his house and key his car.

    I mean this in all seriousness. I know several people who have been stalked by “liberals” from Columbia, to the point of having to move, losing their jobs, and having to get restraining orders against the haters.


  18. kbfenner

    A citation to a partisan website doesn’t count.

    I want to see a copy of a long form birth certificate!

  19. BillC

    Since when do we care what the French think or care about?

    For Sale: French Military Rifle – never fired and only dropped once.

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