|A few days ago, Barack Obama suggested that it would be a good idea if more American students learned foreign languages. Obama wasn't being a Smart Alec here. He wasn't saying: "Look at me. Look at how many languages I speak." Quite the reverse. Obama has acknowledged he is practically monolingual, and he has said he wished he were more proficient at other languages. In essence, all he said was it would be a good thing if more Americans could do what my Portuguese hosts did – answer questions in words not of their native tongue.|
The response launched by anti-immigration groups and senior figures within the Republican party was nothing short of culturally catastrophic. Groups such as Americans for Legal Immigration declared he was saying native-born Americans should be forced to learn Spanish. On television, Rudy Giuliani seemed to suggest Obama's words were simply designed to appeal to European anti-Americanism, a conspiratorial attempt to boost the Democrat's already sky-high poll numbers on the global stage.
This is politics at its most stupid. And it reconfirms my sense that America is at a crossroads. Will the country embrace a politics of ignorance come November? Or will voters realise that if America is to regain its sense of purpose and prosperity it has to embrace smarter ideas, educate its people properly and engage with – instead of be afraid of – the world, peoples and cultures beyond its borders?
Even open borders Oppenheimer was intellectually honest enough to point out Obama's speech.
|Speaking in Georgia on July 8, Obama said in response to a question on bilingualism, ''We live in a global economy. And, you know, I don't understand when people are going around worrying about, 'We need to have English-only.' They want to pass a law, 'We want English-only.'|
''Now I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this: Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English - they'll learn English - you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.''
Obama added, "It's embarrassing when Europeans come over here; they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say is 'Merci beaucoup.' Right?''
That is what made people pissed off. He deliberately merges two different subjects. Americans should learn a second language in schools or in general. But to say Americans need to learn Spanish while airily dismissing the notion that immigrants learn English as some sort of hideous wrong got him in trouble.