Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich of Maryland, generally considered a moderate in a liberal state, cheered conservatives when he spoke out against multiculturalism last week, denouncing it as “bunk” while appearing on a local radio show.
“Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk, that some folks are teaching in our college campuses and other places, you run into a problem,” Ehrlich said during an appearance on WBAL radio in Baltimore. “There is no such thing as a multicultural society that can sustain itself, in my view, and I think history teaches us this lesson.”
“With regard to this culture, English is the language,” said Ehrlich. “Can [immigrants] obviously honor their ethnic traditions and languages at home and other places? Of course. They are not mutually exclusive. The point here is there is a major distinction between ethnic pride, which is appropriate, and multiculturalism, which is damaging to the society in my view.”
After Ehrlich made these remarks, his Annapolis office was deluged with reaction, pro and con. Ehrlich Press Secretary Shareese DeLeaver told me five days later, “That’s the only thing I’m being asked about.”
She added that the governor is not backing down: “The governor stands by his comments,” she said. “He has neither apologized nor shied away from them.”
Several high-profile Maryland Democrats tried to capitalize on what they perceived as a politically incorrect gaffe. “It is troubling to hear anyone degrade our diversity and multiculturalism,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan, who may run against Ehrlich in 2006. State Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez told the Washington Post Ehrlich’s remarks were “dangerous.” “What I am sensing is that these kinds of comments from leadership, from people who are in high-level positions, are really fueling an environment that is very dangerous and negative,” she said. When I reached her and asked if she meant that she did not want immigrants to learn English, she said, “No, nothing could be further from my position. As a former school board member, I am a strong advocate of learning English. My complaint is with [Ehrlich’s] attitude.”
Ehrlich’s comments were prompted by earlier remarks by State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. Describing to the Board of Public Works how he was unable to communicate with a Spanish-speaking attendant at a McDonald’s, Schaefer said, “I don’t want to adjust to another language. This is the United States. I think they ought to adjust to us.”
On WBAL, Ehrlich said his views were “very similar to the comptroller’s.” The next day, when reporters tried to get him to amend or withdraw his comments, Ehrlich said: “The words stand on their own. It’s a common culture, and the last message we want to send out is for people to separate themselves. We should celebrate the common American culture, the common American values and the common American language. I think that’s common sense.”