Bush's Won't Support Official-English Bill

The Senate’s vote to make English the “national” language of the United States is largely symbolic, and even that is not likely to pass into law. Certainly not as long as George W. Bush is President of the United States.

What Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.) proposed has been tried before, and then, as now, political demagoguery got in the way.

It was August 1, 1996, and the now-infamous former California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham had authored a bill to make English the “official” language of the nation. The ensuing discussion—about such things as citizenship and the melting pot—was loud and raucous—but even so, the bill passed 259-169.

This bill had teeth in it. It would have required most official documents to be printed in English and would have allowed (but not required) states to stop using bilingual ballots. The bill also contained logical exceptions for such items as public safety warnings and to ensure that criminals could be informed of charges against them in their native languages.

In the current debate, up rose Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to pronounce the bill “racist.” A decade ago, it was Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D.-R.I.) who talked about “the seeds of hate” as he condemned Republicans: “If you don’t like the way they look, if you don’t like the way they sound, they’re not Americans.”

Cunningham was furious. He demanded to know if Kennedy had ever volunteered to serve his country. And then, sounding as if the debate were being held today, he declared, “We’re tearing down a wall. If I were mean-spirited, I would say, ‘stay where you are. Don’t learn the English language.’”

Perhaps even more relevant to the current discussion is that then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush weighed in on the matter. He was against it—just as he is now. That means it’s unlikely to happen. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.

Back in 1996, Cunningham was quick to point out that boatloads of money could be saved if agencies such as the IRS didn’t have to print forms in multiple languages. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

According to studies made by Ohio University economist Dr. Lowell Gallaway, the language gap is costing taxpayers and businesses about $175 billion in lost productivity, wages, tax revenue, and unemployment compensation. Gallaway, no immigrant basher, suggested doing whatever is possible to increase language capabilities.

Unfortunately, this is one of those issues where facts don’t matter. Political correctness mandates that immigrants, particularly Spanish-speaking ones, not be offended no matter what it costs the taxpayers.

So we end up with a situation reported in USA Today in which a boy named Timmy got a buzz cut because the barber didn’t speak English well enough to understand his request for a trim.  And of course, there was the 2000 election in Florida that became a national disgrace because so many people could not understand the ballot.

Four years earlier, Boston University’s John Silber wrote, “Citizens who are not proficient in English cannot…follow a political campaign, talk with candidates, or petition their representatives.”  But Dr. Silber’s words remain unheeded. Government agencies are constantly being sued over language issues to the point that some—such as the Santa Ana Police Department—will only hire bilingual people.

Neither of our most recent two presidents has been any help. Clinton signed Executive Order 13166 mandating federal agencies to offer all government services in foreign languages. George W. Bush, who could have rescinded the order, chose not to and it was left to the Supreme Court to neuter it in Alexander v. Sandoval. (Martha Sandoval had lived in the U.S. for 10 years without learning English and she was demanding that the state of Alabama administer her driver’s license test in Spanish.)

President Bush would never sign a bill for a symbolic “national” language, and certainly would not support an “official” language that would either stop the government from catering to an emerging voting bloc or that might end bilingual education.

Even if the President recalls 1995 when about 60% of French-speaking Quebecers voted to secede from Canada, he will not bend. An official language might unite this country more than any other single thing, but in President Bush’s mind, unity is nowhere near as important as votes.