Newt Gingrich on language (cont'd)

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Apr 5 13:54:01 UTC 2007

JOSE DE LA ISLA: Loudmouth's vision for a linguistic shipwreck

Last Updated: April 4, 2007, 10:42:17 AM PDT

HOUSTON Newt Gingrich is only 64 but already he's afflicted with memory
lapse. He has conveniently forgotten his own past. Addressing the National
Federation of Republican Women in Washington, D.C., March 31, the
potential GOP presidential aspirant claimed bilingual-education classes
are teaching students "the language of living in a ghetto." They must be
eliminated, he insisted, and so should ballots in languages other than
English. Encouragement of bilingualism - which he once described as "a
danger to the fabric of our nation"- should never be permitted at
government expense.

But hold on a minute.

Is this the same Newt Gingrich who as Speaker of the House in 1998 sent
out at government expense a proclamation in Spanish saluting Mexico's
Cinco de Mayo holiday? The one that had us Hispanic political junkies
doubled over in laughter? Under Newt's signature was the identifier El
Hablador de la Casa.

Literal translation: "The Loudmouth of the House."

"Presidente de la Camara de Representantes" was Gingrich's correct title
at the time. The proclamation also weirdly singled out for praise two
Cuban-American colleagues (not Mexican-Americans for whom by heritage the
celebration is more appropriate). Evidently, national heritage and origins
make no difference to the then-Speaker. That's like saying, "Oh, she's
Danish or Greek, what difference does it make, it's all European?" Not all
Hispanics are carbon copies. Gingrich should make himself a whole lot more
culturally literate if he has any further political aspirations.

Lately he has been dropping hints he might run for president in 2008 if a
clear Republican frontrunner hasn't emerged by Labor Day. So it's too
early to know whether language purification would be a centerpiece for his
campaign. What is becoming clear, however, is that he's a leader in the
ranks of scare-yourself nativists who have a hard time accepting the world
as it is. Specifically, Gingrich told his cheering audience of 100, "We
should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people
learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of
prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."

Does this mean he opposes President Bush's National Security Language
Initiative in the State Department? It provides U.S. students, from
kindergarten through university, training in critical foreign languages,
such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi and Farsi. At least 47 million
U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home and 14.6
million of them are school aged. This diversity gives us a linguistic
base. It's a national security, economic and diplomatic asset of growing
importance. James Crawford, of the Institute of Language and Education
Policy, puts it succinctly, "Why should any nation limit its horizons to a
single language when the global economy rewards those who can accommodate
diversity? Why choose isolation from other cultures in a time of change?"

Let's not play dumb. Gingrich's reference is not really about language at
all. It's a swipe at Spanish (in code language "bilingual"), immigrants
and any supportive programs to that national economic engine. Gingrich may
well reflect another crack in the Republican foundation that could render
it unviable later. A national party needs feasible policies appealing to a
growing population. His recommendation is to make the nation vulnerable by
appealing to a shrinking population base. His shtick on bilingual
education may not be his biggest policy issue but it is the most telling
about the shipwreck he proposes.

Worse still, he wants to turn schoolchildren and newcomers who want to
become part of our fabric into villains and victims. Where is the
"opportunity state" Gingrich so famously spoke for in the '90s when he was
the architect of the "Contract with America?" It's out the window,
according to El Hablador de la Casa.


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