Herman Badillo, the first Puerto Rican-born U.S. congressman, architect of key federal bilingual voting and education laws and a fixture of New York City politics for nearly five decades, is now 77 and senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank. It’s a great fit.
Mr. Badillo’s partial autobiography, “One Nation, One Standard,” reflects his dramatic end-of-career conversion on questions like the unintended, assimilation-retarding consequences of institutional bilingualism and the failure of government programs, and political action generally, to improve the lot of the Hispanic community to which he devoted his life. His book is a testimony to the efficacy of this remarkable public policy shop’s brew of libertarian and neoconservative ideas — and ominous evidence of their ultimate limitation.
Mr. Badillo’s message is blunt and bracing: “American Hispanics need, first and foremost, to envision and adopt a completely new culture of self-improvement. … the true solutions to their problems lie not with government but within themselves.”
In effect, Mr. Badillo is advocating Hispanics adopt the Protestant Ethic. This strikingly echoes neoconservative development expert Lawrence E. Harrison, who has argued in works like “Culture Matters” and “The Central Liberal Truth” that differing religious and Colonial histories go far in explaining the differing economic performances of Third World societies. And indeed, Mr. Badillo explicitly blames what he repeatedly calls Latin America’s “five century siesta” on Spain’s authoritarian Colonial and Catholic legacy.
Amazingly — and I don’t remember hearing about this while Mr. Badillo was active in New York politics — it materializes that he actually is a Protestant, one of Puerto Rico’s very few, from a family persecuted for its Protestantism way back into the 19th century. Orphaned at 5, he reports laconically that he persisted in attending a Baptist church, though the only Protestant in the neighborhood, “because somebody, probably my dying mother, must have impressed upon me that I had to attend the Protestant church, even if I had to go alone.” Clearly, this was culture that mattered.
Mr. Badillo’s personal experience differs from the Hispanic norm in another way, the memory of which seems to have resurfaced to influence his thinking now. On being brought to the United States as a Spanish-speaking 11-year-old, he was dispatched to an uncle who had married an American and lived a completely English-speaking life in a paradisiacal Southern California suburb. Totally immersed, Mr. Badillo got himself elected high school class president within two years.
He does not say, probably wisely, whether the suburb remains completely English-speaking or paradisiacal today.
Mr. Badillo eventually became a lawyer and a CPA, courtesy of public schools and the legendary free City University of New York. He quite reasonably regards himself as living proof that education is the ladder out of poverty. He is enraged that racial politics has substantially destroyed that ladder in New York. The core of his book is his epic struggle with New York’s educational bureaucracy, latterly as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s education special counsel and chairman of CUNY’s Board of Trustees.
Some of this is so tragic you have to laugh. For example, Mr. Badillo reports he has spent 40 years trying to retire obsolete airplane engines from the vocational high schools he once attended, even finding law clients who would pay for new ones, only to fail because of the difficulty of retraining teachers (aka union rules). So students are still prepared for non-existent jobs.
At one point, Mr. Badillo discovered New York was recruiting “bilingual” teachers from Spain who spoke no English — proof that the policy he helped develop had become a language-retention racket. As CUNY chairman Mr. Badillo attacked Hostos Community College for graduating students who did not know English — only to discover this was standard practice at all community colleges, though none admitted it.
Mr. Badillo says frankly that “bilingual” education is still in place. Paradoxically, reading about his heroic efforts leads inexorably to the conclusion that an education system that must be led by heroes is fundamentally flawed. The problem is that education is a socialized industry. The only answer is privatization — replacing politics with market processes. But this is apparently still unsayable.
Similarly, though Mr. Badillo’s criticisms have inflamed Hispanics, the brutal truth is that he does not go far enough. He disregards accumulating evidence that the United States is importing a second, Spanish-speaking underclass (and even repeats the long-exploded claim that 44 percent of Hispanics voted for President Bush in 2004). The real question, which neither Mr. Badillo nor his new allies want to ask, is: Why does the United States want another underclass anyway?
Peter Brimelow, author of “Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster,” runs VDARE.com.