Jonah Goldberg

The Democrats have been pounding on the Bush administration for months about its alleged "insensitivity" to the outsourcing of jobs. Kerry and Edwards have been screeching about the White House's "policy" to outsource jobs, close factories and - no doubt coming soon - to switch honest American Girl Scout cookies for stale Chinese fortune cookies made by children shackled to conveyer belts.

Before that - and before Bush backed a half-trillion-dollar Medicare expansion - the Democrats pounded the table about Bush's "insensitivity" about the lack of healthcare and the outrageous costs of prescription drugs. Before that it was the tax cuts. I forget what came before that. But there's a unifying theme to all of these policies and criticisms, at least in the minds of liberals.

Jonathan Alter of Newsweek calls it "let-them-eat-cake economics," a phrase that does seem to capture in one neat liberal cliche the belief that Republicans don't understand the average guy's plight.

In fact, last summer the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a news release titled, "DeLay: Qu'ils mangent de la brioche," when Tom Delay came out against some "pro-child" tax-credit. That gibberish in the preceding sentence is the actual line that Marie Antoinette was supposed to have uttered when she heard the peasants were starving because there was no bread.

There's only one problem with this line of attack. Everything - and I mean everything - about it is wrong.

Let's start from the top. First, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" doesn't mean, "Let them eat cake." It means, "Let them eat some fancy egg-based bread" - i.e. a brioche. Second, Marie Antoinette never said it. The story comes from Rousseau's "Confessions" and, according to historians, he couldn't have been talking about Marie Antoinette, because she was only 10 years old when the book was written and still living in Austria. Some believe that perhaps Marie Therese, another queen, had said, "Let them eat brioche," 100 years before the French Revolution. Other historians think Rousseau just made it all up. Whatever.

What's far more bogus is the moral behind the story. You see, back then France had a law on the books that required bakeries to sell expensive breads - including brioche - at the same price as cheap bread if the baker ran out of cheap bread. So, saying, "Let them eat brioche" is actually pretty rational. It's like saying, "Let them enforce minimum wage laws" or "the government should do something about those profiteering bakers who aren't selling their fancy bread at an affordable price!"


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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