Obama's Poor English Lesson

Barack Obama has questioned, implicitly, the value of English as a primary language.   Why shouldn't the rest of us learn to speak Spanish?  What is so "special" about English?

Pandering to Hispanic voters is at the heart of this latest swerve in Obama's insubstantial campaign, but picking on English is a very silly and very dangerous tactic towards a vital national and international issue.

Obama himself is the best argument for a black in America learning to master English.  The candidate speaks English perfectly and that has made him the first viable black presidential candidate.  If he spoke English like most inner city blacks, then -- unfairly perhaps -- millions of whites would have privately dismissed him as not up to the job of president.  It is profoundly selfish of him to profit from his excellent English, and then to suggest that young Hispanics and other immigrants who have difficulty with English remain in their linguistic ghetto. 

What should Obama be saying instead?  How about something like this:  "I was blessed to be raised in a home in which good English in a vernacular easily understood was normal.  My ability to communicate in English well was not something that I had to work had to achieve, but it was something that opened many doors to me that would otherwise be closed to a young black man.  If you want to succeed in America, just as Italians, Japanese, Jews, Greeks and so many other minorities have done, master English."

Obama is also dead wrong in pretending that English is "just another language" and that insisting Americans speak, read and write English is some sort of ethnic bias.  English, instead, is the great unifier of mankind.  Three of the eight members of the G8 -- America, Britain and Canada -- are English-speaking.  India, the largest democracy in the world, uses English as its principal administrative language.  Australia, which along with India is set to be one of the next nations admitted to the G8 group, is English-speaking too.

Pakistan, a tinderbox in the world today, uses English as a principal administrative language. Zimbabwe, another serious trouble spot, has a large number of English-speaking citizens.  Nations like Malaysia and Nigeria, which sit on important religious and political rifts in our world, have large numbers of people who are English-speakers.  Hong Kong, which is a crucial link between China and America, has millions of English-speakers.

In places from Belize to Bangladesh, from Singapore to South Africa, English is an important language and, in many cases, the most important language.  Bismarck once said that the most important political fact of the 19th Century was that the British and the Americans spoke the same language.  Nothing has made that observation less valid today.  Understanding English is so important that hundreds of millions of people who do not live in English-speaking lands have learned English.  Even our old enemy, the now dead Soviet Union, made English compulsory.  This was not out of love for America "the main enemy," but because a grasp of English was such a priceless asset.

English is not just like any other language, any more than Latin in 1000 C.E. was "just another language."  Anyone who wanted to seriously study anything, to exercise influence anywhere, or to advance professionally or commercially needed to know Latin even more than he knew the tongue of the land in which he lived.  Because everyone who was anyone read and spoke Latin, Copernicus, a Pole, could give lectures in Italian universities.  Doctors and lawyers today are seriously handicapped if they are completely ignorant of Latin.  That is how strong the tug of dominant languages is across history. 

English is like Latin.  It is the means of mutual understanding, the vehicle of clear communication, the tool of study and research.  Pilots of Chinese airliners landing in Tasjkent must speak English to the air traffic controllers: it is the universal language of modernity.

If Obama does not know these things, then he is too ignorant to safely sit in the Oval Office.  If Obama knows these things, but prefers to dissemble, then he is worse than simply a political liar:  He is a political liar whose lies, he knows, ruin people's lives.
Barack Obama has questioned, implicitly, the value of English as a primary language.   Why shouldn't the rest of us learn to speak Spanish?  What is so "special" about English?

Pandering to Hispanic voters is at the heart of this latest swerve in Obama's insubstantial campaign, but picking on English is a very silly and very dangerous tactic towards a vital national and international issue.

Obama himself is the best argument for a black in America learning to master English.  The candidate speaks English perfectly and that has made him the first viable black presidential candidate.  If he spoke English like most inner city blacks, then -- unfairly perhaps -- millions of whites would have privately dismissed him as not up to the job of president.  It is profoundly selfish of him to profit from his excellent English, and then to suggest that young Hispanics and other immigrants who have difficulty with English remain in their linguistic ghetto. 

What should Obama be saying instead?  How about something like this:  "I was blessed to be raised in a home in which good English in a vernacular easily understood was normal.  My ability to communicate in English well was not something that I had to work had to achieve, but it was something that opened many doors to me that would otherwise be closed to a young black man.  If you want to succeed in America, just as Italians, Japanese, Jews, Greeks and so many other minorities have done, master English."

Obama is also dead wrong in pretending that English is "just another language" and that insisting Americans speak, read and write English is some sort of ethnic bias.  English, instead, is the great unifier of mankind.  Three of the eight members of the G8 -- America, Britain and Canada -- are English-speaking.  India, the largest democracy in the world, uses English as its principal administrative language.  Australia, which along with India is set to be one of the next nations admitted to the G8 group, is English-speaking too.

Pakistan, a tinderbox in the world today, uses English as a principal administrative language. Zimbabwe, another serious trouble spot, has a large number of English-speaking citizens.  Nations like Malaysia and Nigeria, which sit on important religious and political rifts in our world, have large numbers of people who are English-speakers.  Hong Kong, which is a crucial link between China and America, has millions of English-speakers.

In places from Belize to Bangladesh, from Singapore to South Africa, English is an important language and, in many cases, the most important language.  Bismarck once said that the most important political fact of the 19th Century was that the British and the Americans spoke the same language.  Nothing has made that observation less valid today.  Understanding English is so important that hundreds of millions of people who do not live in English-speaking lands have learned English.  Even our old enemy, the now dead Soviet Union, made English compulsory.  This was not out of love for America "the main enemy," but because a grasp of English was such a priceless asset.

English is not just like any other language, any more than Latin in 1000 C.E. was "just another language."  Anyone who wanted to seriously study anything, to exercise influence anywhere, or to advance professionally or commercially needed to know Latin even more than he knew the tongue of the land in which he lived.  Because everyone who was anyone read and spoke Latin, Copernicus, a Pole, could give lectures in Italian universities.  Doctors and lawyers today are seriously handicapped if they are completely ignorant of Latin.  That is how strong the tug of dominant languages is across history. 

English is like Latin.  It is the means of mutual understanding, the vehicle of clear communication, the tool of study and research.  Pilots of Chinese airliners landing in Tasjkent must speak English to the air traffic controllers: it is the universal language of modernity.

If Obama does not know these things, then he is too ignorant to safely sit in the Oval Office.  If Obama knows these things, but prefers to dissemble, then he is worse than simply a political liar:  He is a political liar whose lies, he knows, ruin people's lives.