If you thought ethnic pandering disappeared from the White House with the silverware and the Clintons, think again.
Last weekend, President Bush proudly delivered the first White House radio address in Spanish. "Republican strategists" -- media-hungry hustlers who wouldn't know a conservative principle if it smacked them on the head -- rejoiced at Bush's Cinco de Mayo broadcast and have already started tallying up future Hispanic votes. "This is a superb move, and it has substantial symbolic value," Whit Ayres, an Atlanta-based Republican pollster, told the Miami Herald. "This shows he's trying to reach out to all Americans."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, was more honest about Bush's exclusionary bilingual ploy: "Hispanic clout is rising exponentially, and this shows the Republican Party is going after the Hispanic vote in the next election." Joaquin Blaya, CEO of Radio Unica, added: "The impetus behind this (for Bush) is simple -- whoever picks up more Hispanic votes gets elected."
Spending a few minutes every Saturday speaking Spanish in the Oval Office may seem like a harmless gesture. But conservatives should ask: Just how far will Bush go to curry favor with the overwhelmingly Democratic ethnic minority lobby? Judging from the administration's stance on a federal executive order that essentially guarantees language translation as a civil right, the answer is: too far.
In his waning lame-duck days last summer, former president Bill Clinton signed EO 13166. This little-noticed White House missive decreed that all federal agencies give non-English speakers "equal access" to federal services. The order states that it "does not create any right or benefit," but it is being interpreted as an absolute entitlement rooted in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued compliance guidelines to local agencies for guaranteeing welfare recipients "free" services such as interpreters and written materials in languages from Farsi to Tagalog. Doctors can be cut off from Medicaid reimbursement and sued for discrimination based on national origin if they don't provide these amenities.
The American Medical Association points out that if forced to absorb the rule's costs for all Medicaid non-English speaking patients, physicians will simply decide not to treat any Medicaid patients. Nevertheless, HHS continues to bully medical providers into complying with its Byzantine regulations. The 602-bed Maine Medical Center in Portland recently signed a settlement with the agency requiring it to offer interpretation in eight languages including Somali, Spanish and Serbo-Croatian ("Cyrillic and Roman alphabets") at a cost of a quarter-million dollars a year. The hospital must also provide an hour of training for managers and all staff members who work directly with patients and make annual reports to HHS' Office of Civil Rights until 2004 in order to remain eligible for federal funding.
So where does the Bush administration -- supposed crusaders against big-government, top-down bureaucracy -- stand on EO 13166 and its costly multilingual mandate? According to White House spokesman Scott McClellan, there are no plans to repeal it. And, apparently, no plans to hear from those who oppose it. Jim Boulet, executive director of English First, reports in National Review Online that no official English groups were invited to a meeting last week between the White House and liberal immigrant advocates who are lobbying to preserve the Clinton order.
So what's next? The State of the Union speech in Armenian to shore up votes in southern California? White House briefings in Khmer to win over Cambodians in New York, New Jersey and Florida? President Bush promised to be a uniter, not a divider. Yet, in spoken word and regulatory deed, the new commander in chief continues to uphold the Balkanizing language policies of his predecessor.
"E Pluribus Unum?" Adios.