Friday, May 19, 2006

English Minors

Despite my recent criticism of the redirection of the current national debate from pressing problems toward dredged-up psuedo crises of the week, recent actions by the Senate have been truly astounding. They beg and demand criticism in this context.

Firstly, we saw an idiot Senate kotowing to James Dobson's demands for a furtherance of the fundamentalists' cherished prize of a Constitutional ban on gay marriage. And now we are treated to learning that the Senate just voted to make English the "national language" of the United States, although the measure apparently doesn't require any change in current law. Indeed, the wording is so innocuous -- it directs the government to "prreserve and enhance" the role of English -- it is hard to know just what it even means in the real world.

But the real world is not what this time-waster was meant for. Its meaning is apprehended from the very provenance of it's sudden and worthless passage: it is a symbolic gesture specifically designed to show how much the Senate suddenly cares about "real" Americans and "real" America. In other words, it is yet another appeal by Republicans to their shriveling "base." The worst part of this worthless measure -- or the best part, depending upon the strength of your apppreciation for the painfully ironic: it was introduced by James Inhofe (R-Ok).

One of things that I had always appreciated about the United States was the confidence the country demonstrated in itself by not having a so-called national language law. And one of the more odious aspects of the anti-immigration howling was a demand that government "preserve" English as America's language. The irony is fierce on more than one level; that an imported language is labeled "American" and for the reason cited above. Gone from perspective is this country's origins, its very nature. It is NIMBYISM at its most extreme and unappealing.

No posturing about English as regards the United States is too embarassing that politicians won't embrace it and we were treated to such in full monty when Bush said the Star Spangled Banner should be sung in English and only English, as though he had some innate ability to prevent translations. Now there's a postion a uniter -- not a divider -- can really embrace. Is this really what the President of the United States should be worried about? It would seem more than flattering that Hispanics would want to translate the ponderous dirge into Spanish. It probably sounds better, too.

Language laws are assuredly a one way street and they manifest an inherent social insecurity on the part of the "majority," which would wish to believe their heritage endemic to America, as though preordained. But America's English heritage came as the direct result of a long war -- ultimately lost by the French as much as it was won by the British -- well before this country existed.

But insecurity is exactly what Bush has been selling for 4-plus years now. What's next? draconian language laws like those in Quebec that had prohibited English in places of business, signs that must display French words proportionally bigger than English words? Once again, this pandering to the reactionary right is only going to lead politicians in Washington to accede to further reactionary demands.

Unfortunately, the nation's leaders -- how I hate referring to such twits by that label -- have chosen politicking over a recognition of, not only the country's historical embrace of immigrants, cultures and languages, but of their own families' histories. We have a Sectretary of State named Condolezza, an Attorney General name Alberto Gonzales (who apparently has no idea how his grandparents got into the country) and Secretary of Defense name Rumsfeld. We have Senators Akaka, Domenici, Enzi, Feingold, Feinstein, Hagel, Inofe, Inouye, Isakson, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leiberman, Lugar, Martinez, Menendez, Mikulski, Murkowski, Obama, Salazar, Santorum, Schumer, Sununu, Thune, Voinovich. Perhaps the next Senate measure will determine all such alien names to be un-American and any new immigrants will henceforth be name John Smith, just so we can preserve our English heritage. And the one to follow that? Why, how about a law requiring white people to have more babies. It seems like the logical progression and Fox News would certainly get behind it.


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