Butch Mazzuca: Yes, words do matter
In his Vail Daily column last Saturday, liberal columnist and Obama supporter David Sirota accused the senator of flip-flopping on issues. It’s clear that the senator has changed or modified a number of his positions, but more than flip-flopping; the senator has proven particularly skillful at nuance and deflection.
Most of us have seen the You Tube video of Sen. Barack Obama telling a group of supporters, “I don’t understand when people are going around worrying about we need to have English only; they want to pass a law to have English only … but instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English … you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish!” (If you haven’t seen it, Google “Obama + kids must learn Spanish”.)
Perhaps the senator’s supporters were so mesmerized by his oratory that they missed how he nuanced the discussion with his verbal legerdemain. Barack Obama is an attorney; he’s articulate, facile and knows that accuracy of terms and proper context are critical to meaningful debate. However, by twice using the phrase “English only” in the same sentence, the senator cleverly deflected the real issue.
Nowhere is it written that the American people want English to be the “ONLY” language spoken in the United States as Sen. Obama intimated. Rather, 87 percent of Americans polled said they want English to be the “OFFICIAL” language of government. There’s a huge difference between those two concepts.
Most Americans couldn’t care less about who speaks French or Chinese or Spanish. But Americans are very clear about what they don’t want ” they don’t want Election Day ballots and driver’s license exams printed in Spanish, or being forced to press ONE for English when calling the Social Security Administration or having the Pledge of Allegiance recited in another language so as not to offend this or that minority.
As former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm tells us, “History shows that no nation can survive the tension, conflict, and antagonism of two or more competing languages and cultures. It is a blessing for an individual to be bilingual; however, it is a curse for a society to be bilingual. The historical scholar, Seymour Lipset, put it this way ” the histories of bilingual and bi-cultural societies that do not assimilate are histories of turmoil, tension, and tragedy.”
Sen. Obama knows that the ability to use the English language proficiently, more than any other measurable characteristic, will determines an individual’s place on the societal pyramid in the 21st century; and that knowledge of the exact meanings of a large number of words is the single most common denominator of success in America. He knows, too, the status of English as an international language is long established and is unlikely to be challenged in the foreseeable future. A quick glance at the Beijing Olympics with its extensive use of English signs, English announcements and English lettering, even on the uniforms of non-English-speaking athletes, is just one example. So why tell the American public that we need to make sure our kids can speak Spanish?
Sen. Obama derided Hillary Clinton during the primaries with the mantra, “Words matter!” But if words matter, why did Sen. Obama replace the word “official” with the word “only” when addressing his supporters? Sen. Obama is a masterful politician and without doubt is aware that by a margin of more than 7 to 1 Americans want to make English the “official” language of government. So why the subterfuge?
Sen. Obama told his supporters it’s “embarrassing” when Americans go to Europe and all they can say is merci beau coup. It’s the senator’s prerogative to be embarrassed, but that still doesn’t explain why he intentionally changed the context of the debate by substituting words. While no one can say with certitude, perhaps Senator Obama doesn’t want to discuss his reasons for voting no on the proposed 2006 Senate bill to make English the official language of government. (Note: there are important legal distinctions between “official” and “national” language.)
Learning Spanish as a second language is a fine idea; but considering the complexity of today’s world, coupled with the state of politics in this country, one would think that if a politician was going to suggest a field of study, why not encourage Americans to study world history ” or better yet, the history of the United States?
A strong argument can be made that the most important responsibility of any president is to preserve the character of the nation and its people. And who can argue that gaining a better understanding of the Electoral College or the rationale behind the Bill of Rights or the difference between a democracy and a constitutional republic wouldn’t do far more to “preserve the character of this nation and its people” than learning how to say “Prefiero harina a las tortillas de maiz” when ordering lunch in a Mexican restaurant?
The English as our “official language” issue isn’t going away. So let’s hope the senator gives us a clearer explanation of his position as the campaign progresses.
Quote of the day: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” ” George Carlin
Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes a column for the Vail Daily.
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