Eric Meany
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Language Issue
by Eric Meany

A politician has to be pretty creative with his lying in order to get a rise out of me these days. It happens with such frequency and in such a casual manner that it merely seems commonplace. So kudos to Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich, who recently took a very controversial position and then claimed not to have done so. I guess he didn't think anybody bothered to write down what he had said. Or he didn't think that in the year 2004 there might be a recording of the comments he had made on the radio two weeks before his denial.

Allow me to set the stage.

State Comptroller William Schaefer made some public comments about a difficult time he had communicating with Spanish speaking employee at a McDonald's in Deverna Park, Maryland. This caused a bit of a public debate regarding the merits of multiculturalism vs. assimilation for non-English speaking immigrants. Ehrlich was asked to comment on the situation on WBAL-AM radio, and here is what he said:

"Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk, you run into a problem. With respect to this culture, English is the language. Should we encourage young folks here to be assimilated, to learn the culture and values? Of course."

So the Governor's publicly stated opinion, as expressed above, was that "young folks" should be encouraged to learn to speak English. Remove the first (really offensive) sentence, and you are left with a simple statement. It stirred people up pretty good, however, most likely due to his statesmanlike use of the words "bunk" and "crap". So two weeks later he defended himself:

"My words were very clear," the governor said in an interview. "My comments were not directed to the language issue. They were to make a point about this politically correct movement against assimilation."

Uh, OK.

No, wait. Let me check my notes....

"With respect to this culture, English is the language."

"My comments were not directed to the language issue."

So, what you're really saying is you think we're all idiots. Forgetful idiots. With no tape recorders or writing implements of any kind.

In order to keep my head from exploding, I'll get away from the Governor's comments for a second and take a look at the original issue. If I were to walk into a McDonald's in Maryland, would it be out of line for me to expect to be able to communicate in English with the person taking my order? I think not. However, I don't think that this means that all immigrants to this country need to learn English or leave. I think it means that the manager in charge of hiring people to work behind the counter at McDonald's should make fluent English a prerequisite for the job. You can't go to get a job flying jets for TWA and say that back in your home country you never thought to learn to be a pilot but can you please have the job anyway. You would be turned away, and rightly so. This does not necessarily mean that all immigrants should know how to fly airplanes.

If you are able to go about your daily life in this country without speaking English, it's really none of my business. If I stop you on the streets of Deverna Park and ask you for directions and you are unable to help me because we do not share a common language, no biggie. I'll ask the next person. If you have a job that involves me giving you money for food but we are unable to communicate regarding what kind of food I would like, I have an issue with the way your restaurant is being run. It is my opinion that you should either get a job that does not require English to be spoken or, if you're into it, you should learn Enlglish.

Now, back to Governor Ehrlich.

No, I can't. My head hurts to much. What a bunch of crap. And bunk.

I'm just thankful I don't live in Maryland.

posted by funafuti - 2:30 pm

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