Since When Is Ignorance A Virtue?

Ken AshfordEducation, Election 2008, Foreign Affairs, Immigration and XenophobiaLeave a Comment

So here’s the latest scandal rocking the Obama campaign….

Last week, Obama said 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.

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?

Obama was attacked for his statements by right wing radio talk shows and conservative bloggers. But in many cases he was not quoted correctly. For example, the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC took aim by claiming that "Barack Obama has stepped on a political land mine by stating that Americans should be forced to learn Spanish."

That is not what Obama said, of course. But for the conservatives, truth doesn’t matter.

Commentary from the right went something like this:

Note that Obama isn’t merely saying, "learning foreign languages is swell," or, "those who speak a second language deserve a pat on the back." He’s saying that monolingualism or English-only is an insufficient condition for American citizens.

This is a very dramatic change from the position of American leaders for most of our history. It used to be, if you spoke a language besides English, a thriving life outside of immigrant enclaves would require effort to speak the mother tongue. American culture as a whole said to the immigrant, "You have to get with the program." Now, Obama is pointing to Americans who speak only English and saying, "Now you have to get with the program."

And soon came the inevitable "gotcha" game where it was revealed that Obama hmself isn’t fluent in a language other than English!!!  Gee, but I thought Barrack Hussein Obama was a Muslim who was reared in medrassas.

Of course, responding to the (ridiculous) criticism, Obama answered smartly:

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.

Indeed.  That’s the kind of candidate he is.  He recognizes the flaws in him that come about from an inadequate education system.

What the hell is going on?  Is being uneducated supposed to be a virtue for this culture all of a sudden?  What Digby said:

There was a time when Obama’s comment was considered completely mainstream. It’s true that Americans have never learned new languages easily, but they respected the idea that kids should learn as much as possible so they could better themselves. Clearly Obama didn’t get the memo that we have embraced cretinism and that all knowledge is suspect.

Ironically, this mini-brouhaha happened just as the military was complaining:

Every service member needs some minimum foreign language skills before deploying — but that capability could require an extensive change in language and cultural training that would have to start long before they enter the military, a House subcommittee was told Wednesday.

The House Armed Services oversight and investigations subcommittee, which has been looking at military programs for current and future operations, is now focused on language and cultural awareness training.

The Defense Department has been working for years to expand language capabilities, both by training people already in the service and recruiting people who are proficient in another language.

Bilingualism also helps American businesses compete in a global market.

It makes perfect sense, to anyone with a brain.  But no…… xenophobia rules some segments of society.  If it’s fer-in, it ain’t no good.

I’ll leave you with the sentiments expressed at Sadly No:

Not to get all elitist or nothing, but our culture is fucking stupid. The fact that presidential campaigns gain advantage from attacking their opponents for sounding too smart is one of the most astounding traits of modern American politics. Maybe the Democrats should just nominate Larry the Cable Guy next time to avoid these sorts of controversies in the future.