Two politicians in Maryland are now in trouble for stating the obvious: People who work in customer service should speak English. And out-of-control multiculturalism is to blame for the failure to preserve America's common language.
The professional victims are up in arms as usual -- demanding apologies, whining to the press and clamoring for government subsidies to nurse their hurt feelings. But for once, the truth-tellers refuse to back down. They are role models for the rest of the nation's spine-deprived public officials.
It all started a few weeks ago when former Gov. William Donald Schaefer walked into a McDonald's restaurant he had frequented regularly for years. Schaefer, a Democrat who now works as comptroller under Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, ordered the same thing every morning: hot tea and a biscuit. After encountering difficulty with a newly hired worker with poor English skills, he quit going to the restaurant out of frustration. "I don't want to adjust to another language," he declared publicly. "This is the United States. I think they should adjust to us."
Who hasn't had an exasperating experience like Schaefer's? In my neighborhood, I've run into English-challenged McDonald's workers who can barely muster a "Hi," a "Welcome" or even a grunt acknowledging my existence while they fiddle with their dumbed-down cash registers. I expect my order to be wrong when I pick it up at the drive-through window, and I never bother going back to get it fixed.
At a Michael's craft store last week, I asked an employee (loitering listlessly in the scrapbooking aisle) where the fabrics were. "Fah-brics?" I repeated slowly and gestured fruitlessly, drawing a rectangle in the air with my index fingers. She shook her head in horror and mumbled: "No understand." Oh, silly me.
At my local Wal-Mart, nationwide employer of workers of dubious immigration status, I listened as a checkout lady from Africa blabbed endlessly in her native language to two visitors hanging out by her station. She didn't bother greeting me or looking at me. When I asked for a bag of items that she had forgotten to put in my cart, she ignored me. "Pardon me, can I have my bag?" I asked. "WAH?!" she finally said with a snarl, offended that I had interrupted her conversation.
Whatever happened to "Thank you, please come again"?
Asked about Schaefer's commentary, and what an arctic blast of fresh air it was, Gov. Ehrlich provided full-throated support. "I reject the idea of multiculturalism," Ehrlich told WBAL host Ron Smith. "Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk that some folks are teaching in our college campuses and other places, you run into a problem. With respect to this culture, English is the language."
And it is under increasing assault. In the classroom. At the ATM machine. And on the phone (pet peeve: "For English, please press '1'"). The difference between past and present immigration experience is the existence of a defiant anti-assimilationist lobby that encourages legal and illegal aliens to resist adapting to the American way of life.
Look at our voting booths, where local and state election officials across the country are being forced to provide foreign-language ballots, bilingual poll workers and voting materials to non-English-speaking people. In March, the Bush administration ordered Harris County, Texas, to provide all voter registration and election information and supplies, including the voting machine ballot, in Vietnamese as well as English and Spanish. So absurd is the drive to protect the rights of "minority-language citizens" that the little town of Briny Breezes, Fla., was required to publish election notices in Spanish -- even though everyone there speaks English.
The language-Balkanizers naturally attack their opponents as racists and immigrant-haters. Jorge Ribas, a Hispanic activist, likened Gov. Ehrlich to Adolf Hitler and Gov. George Wallace. Most politicians would crumple in fear and start singing "Kumbaya." But both Ehrlich and Schaefer have refused to retract their remarks. Befuddled professors and reporters view the controversy as some kind of calculated political maneuver by Ehrlich, instead of a rare outbreak of common sense.
We could use more of it. Plainspoken English is an effective antidote to muddled multiculturalism.