While catching up on my NPR podcasts this afternoon, I came across “Bilingualism A Political Liability?” from NPR’s All Things Considered.
The radio spot focused on the negative responses some of the Republican presidential candidates have received over their ability to speak a foreign language. Mitt Romney speaks fluent French and Jon Huntsman (who has since dropped out of the race) received flak for flaunting his ability to speak Mandarin.
As journalist John McWhorter explained in the interview:
“…The point is that there’s this notion that if he actually has some command of another language that it’s somehow possibly disloyal or it’s dishonest or it’s phony.”
Supporters of Republican candidate Newt Gingrich aired an advertisement that among other things, accused Romney of speaking French (Oh, good God no! Not FRENCH!).
The commercial features french music and a voice-over which warns that Romney will do anything to get elected and that “Like Kerry, he speaks French too”; as though speaking French somehow makes Romney less conservative or less American. Or maybe they were just hoping the South Carolina voters would confuse Romney with another famous French speaker?
The annoying, pesky, sex-starved skunk, Pepe le Pew, from Looney Toons
I assume that that jab at the French language was an effort to appeal to the segment of the American population that associates higher education or France with snobbery and elitism, but I think attacking foreign-language skills (and with it, live-abroad experience) is a dangerous road to go down. The US is already frighteningly ignorant about foreign cultures as it is, we don’t need to make it any worse by making foreign language-learning the enemy.