- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2001

A little learning, as Alexander Pope reminded us a long time ago, is a dangerous thing. Particularly if youre a politician.
George W. Bush and a few others of both parties on the Hill speak passable border Spanish — "bordello Spanish," the young blades from Dallas and Houston (but certainly not Midland) on a weekend lark in Laredo call it. This sometimes leads pols into the temptation to pander.
The president gave his Saturday radio address the other day in his passable Spanish, and he was answered by the Democratic response in similar tongue. Harmless enough, though Hispanic voters are more likely to be turned off than turned on, given that even though many of them speak slowly in English they think as fast as anyone else and recognize cheap sentiment.
Along with a lot of other mischief he left at the White House, Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13166 before he got out of Dodge just ahead of the posse. This little executive order makes "choice of language" a protected civil right, like the right to vote. The bureaucrats at the Department of Transportation, eager as any other bureaucrats to seize as much turf as they can, leaped to write Guidance of Recipients on Special Language Services to Limited English Proficient Beneficiaries to comply with Executive Order 13166. Thats GRSLSLEPB for short, but the only spoonful of this alphabet soup you need to remember is LEP, for "limited English proficiency." You dont have to be very proficient at all, because the department insists that the inability to speak English shouldnt keep anyone from driving on the nations roads just because they cant speak enough English to qualify for a drivers license.
The department considered the implications, and dismissed them. "It is interesting to note," the Department of Transportation says, that in one courtroom example "the state [of Alabama] produced no evidence at trial that non-English speakers pose greater highway safety risks than English speakers."
The parents of one of four Massachusetts middle-school students killed three weeks ago on a student band trip to Nova Scotia argue with that. They argue that their daughters bus might not have crashed in a complicated traffic interchange if the driver, a Chinese immigrant, had been proficient in English.
The father told the Boston Herald that the driver asked a chaperone to interpret road signs for him. "At one of the stops when they were talking in Cantonese she asked him whether he knew English. He said, 'Only a little. She was surprised. If theres an emergency and [the driver] has to relate his location, or if theres an exit and he cant read the name of the street, I dont see how he could do that."
Anecdotal evidence goes only so far, of course, but common sense goes far enough. Anyone who merely takes note of the common sense idea that encouraging new immigrants to learn the language of their new home in the way earlier waves of immigrants learned the language risks being called a bigot. The pols who pander to those who want to make America multilingual can pose as associates of angels.
Most Republicans privately despair of cracking the black vote; blacks, feminists and homosexuals have become the pillars of the Democratic Party and most Republicans think theres not much they can do about it. Theyre targeting instead the Hispanic vote, a worthy project if done in an honorable way, but some in the party foolishly think the way to sew up the Hispanic vote is to keep em in the kitchen, washing dishes.
Last week Mitch Daniels, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, was confronted at a hearing of a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee with a question of what the Bush administration intends to do about Mr. Clintons infamous Executive Order 13166. The answer he got was not much. "The intention of the administration is to leave the Executive Order in place but to review [the subsequent regulations] very carefully as to their substance and form." Further argle-bargle and stumble-mumble deponent knoweth not.
Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma, a Republican, pressed him. "The executive order is what set off these responses," he said. "I frankly wonder if this is an executive order the current administration might rescind or amend."
Mr. Daniels seemed sorry he asked that. "Youve impressed me with all the possible implications." Translation: "Go away, boy, you bother us."
Presenting the persuasive, respectful arguments against turning America into an indigestible multilingual goulash that would benefit nobody is scary, and Republicans, terrified as usual at getting caught being politically incorrect, want to be left alone to pander in peace.


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