Barack Obama’s comment that Americans should teach their children Spanish rather than worry about whether immigrants speak English gave another example of his arrogance and elitist impulses earlier this week. In a memorable moment, he pronounced himself “embarrassed” by Americans who travel abroad and can’t speak the local language — which called into question why he doesn’t get similarly perturbed by foreigners who move here and can’t speak ours. Today, Obama tried to “clarify” his comments by wondering aloud why people found them offensive:
“This is an example of some of the problems we get into when somebody attacks you for saying the truth, which is we should want children with more knowledge. We should want our children to have more skills. There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s a good thing,” he said.
While the Obama campaign says that Obama speaks a little bit of Indonesian, Obama himself admits that he isn’t bilingual.
“I know because I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing!” he said.
So now Barack Obama has managed the impossible — he’s thrown himself under his own bus!
Obama mischaracterizes both his earlier comments and the response. No one argued that children should not learn a second language, although we may want to do a better job in teaching them their first language before worrying about adding another. Obama specifically criticized the push to make English the official language of the US and the end of requirements to produce documents and signs in a multitude of languages to accommodate people who don’t learn English while living here. Here are the original comments:
I — uh — I don’t understand when people are going worrying about “We need to have English only.” They want to pass a law — “we just — we want English only”. Now I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But — but understand this. Instead of worrying about whether, uh, immigrants can learn English — they’ll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish! You should be thinking about how your child can become bilingual. We should have every child speaking more than one language.
You know, 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?
Clearly, he was not talking in the context of education policy. He was attacking people who want to stop pandering to those who refuse to assimilate when they move to the US. “They’ll learn English,” Obama states, but the evidence in every government office shows that we don’t expect them to do so, and many of them don’t. We spend a lot of money printing everything in several different languages — not just Spanish — which is a testament to the fact that we don’t.
And if Obama was speaking about education policy, he’d still be wrong. Most school districts require a second language in high school, although they don’t require it to be Spanish. Spanish wouldn’t help much in France or Germany anyway.
To no one’s great surprise, Obama tried spinning his way out of his elitist, snobby remarks by essentially lying about their context. He then contradicted repeated assertions during the campaign that he spoke Spanish (he did an ad in Spanish during the primaries). He’s flip-flopped on his own bilingual status and called himself an embarrassment as a defense.
What a week!