No plain English spoken on national language issue
Jun. 17, 2007
On June 5 at the Republican presidential debate, Sen. John McCain was the
only candidate on the stage to say that he disagreed with those who want to make
English the "official" language of the United States.
The very next day, however, McCain voted "yes" on an amendment to the
immigration bill that would make English the "national" language.
Anyone know the Spanish translation for flip-flop? The "national" language
proposal sounds tough. It says, "Unless specifically provided by statute, no
person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the Government of the United
States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform, or
provide materials in any language other than English."
What this means, exactly, is nothing. According to news reports, the amendment
would not affect existing laws, court decisions or executive orders that require
the government to provide services in other languages.
It also doesn't affect laws in many states that already declare English the
So, why would anyone propose or vote for a tough-sounding but empty amendment?
That's easy. While some politicians support "official English,"
and others support "national English," none supports plain English.
Even so, I'm not sure why McCain would go along with this. Back in 1988, when
Arizona voters were being asked to approve an English-only proposition,
then-Rep. McCain and two other Arizona congressmen sent a letter to then-Sen.
Barry Goldwater, an honorary chairman for the drive. They asked Goldwater to
remove his name from the effort, which they said was spreading a "despicable
influence into Arizona."
When asked at the time about efforts to make English our official language,
McCain said, "Our nation and the English language has done quite well with
Chinese spoken in California, German in Pennsylvania, Italian in New York,
Swedish in Minnesota and Spanish throughout the Southwest. I fail to see the
cause for alarm now."
Of course, that was long before he was running for president.
The vote to amend the immigration bill to make English our "national"
language was carried by a 64-33 vote.
What that means, essentially, is that McCain didn't have to say yes in order for
the amendment to pass. And if he believes that the argument over language is -
as he told Barry Goldwater - "a despicable influence," why support even a
symbolic version of it?
I contacted McCain's office last week to get an explanation. So far, I haven't
We don't need it. We know how this works. Among other things, couched political
language allows elected officials to take either side of an argument, depending
upon the audience.
For instance, the amendment declaring English the "national" language also
includes a sentence deep down in its numbered and lettered sections that
reads: "Nothing in this chapter shall prohibit the use of a language other than
This mumbo jumbo now is a part of the immigration bill that Congress and the
president are debating. The legislation runs hundreds of pages.
That's not only because immigration and border security are complicated issues
and all of those pages are necessary to preserve national integrity and save us
from being overrun by illegal immigrants, but also because there is an
overwhelming need - among politicians - to preserve their reputations and save