After some very encouraging comments on bankruptcy law in Georgia the other day, Barack Obama opened the floor to some questions. Someone asked about
July 9, 2008

After some very encouraging comments on bankruptcy law in Georgia the other day, Barack Obama opened the floor to some questions. Someone asked about preventing high-school dropouts and added that she believes “there should be a push more for our citizens to become bilingual here in America.”

These comments on bilingualism seem to have caused quite a stir in conservative circles.

Obama added, "You know, no, I’m serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they’re 5, or 6, or 7 than when they’re 46, like me."

All of this sounds pretty sensible to me. Not surprisingly, a lot of conservatives don’t quite see it that way.

Commenting on Obama’s response, Andrew Leonard said, “There’s nothing particularly exceptional about Obama’s position, unless you are an English-only partisan cowering in fear of your cultural identity being swamped by funny-looking people from strange lands. Or one of the similarly insecure patriots who believe any criticism of the U.S. is a sign of ‘blame-America-first’ treachery.”

One might be surprised at just how many folks fall into these camps. Alex Knapp notes some of the high-profile conservative bloggers who are none too pleased with Obama’s comments:

Glenn Reynolds: “Barack Obama: Europeans are cooler than Americans.”

Tom Maguire: “Whoa. Reporting live from the United Kingdom, I have been assured that the typical Brit does not speak many (i.e., any) languages other than English and a smattering of American. Apparently Obama is aware that culturally, Britain is not part of Europe, and he assumes we know it as well.”

Gateway Pundit: “Obama is quite embarrassed that Americans are so boorish and refuse to speak French while traveling abroad. It’s so uncouth.”

The Weekly Standard went so far as to argue that Obama’s desire to see more American kids taught a foreign language is an example of “snobbery.”

Snobbery? Obama talked about this in the context of American competitiveness in a global economy. To care about these issues is to be a snob?

Alex Knapp, who as a conservative libertarian disagrees with Obama on most policy issues, concluded, “Frankly, all this seems to be is a pathetic attempt to feed the ‘Barack Obama is Unamerican’ narrative. A narrative that, I might add, has the result of making Americans sound like ignorant hillbillies. ‘He’s got a funny name!’ ‘He likes food that tastes good instead of crap that’s fried in lard!’ ‘He likes foreigners!’ ‘He wants to speak other languages!’ ‘He’s educated!’ ‘He played basketball instead of football!’ Embarrassing, really.”

Quite right. There’s an old joke you’ve probably heard — what do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. And what do you call someone who speaks one language? An American.

Obama thinks we’d be better off if that joke wasn’t funny anymore. I think he’s right.

Some conservatives sure do pick strange things to get excited about.

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