Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Stephen Collins Headshot

To Continue in English, Press "1"

Posted: Updated:

It's madness that making English the official language of the U.S. is even an issue, much less a partisan one. If you moved to Paris, would you expect your kids to be educated in English -- at a French public school? The PC notion that we should be "sensitive" to ethnicity by providing education, ballots, DMV offices, and street signs in other languages has to give way to economic common sense.

Mort, an avid HuffPost reader, says he's tired of hearing "To Continue in English, Press 1." Me, too, Mort. Most tourists here speak better English than an increasing number of citizens.

Having more than one official language is very, very expensive. Even with a budget surplus, we couldn't afford it. Every single government office will need people who speak all the U.S. languages. All government meetings, in every branch, will require interpreters. They'll have to be trained. And paid. By you and me.

If this sounds reasonable to you, visit India, where government agencies operate in some 22 languages. It's a big part of why India is, well ... India (great food, though).

Non-English residents have organized, demanding a "right" to American government services in their language of origin. They make their appeal in a politically "sensitive" way, sighting concerns about loss of ethnic identity. They're counting on us to be "sensitive," too.

Congressional Republicans have shown way more courage here than Democrats (I'm Independent). Focus group-addicted political advisers are reading polls and advising candidates, "Don't alienate the Hispanic voting bloc." (Someone, deliver us from government by focus group.)

If we cave in and provide more ballots and schools in Spanish, mainland Chinese will soon demand the same "fair" treatment. Then Koreans, Japanese, and Canadians (just wanted to see if you're paying attention).

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle desperately need common ground on some issues -- this could be one -- so that we can undo the kneejerk partisan divide of the past generation. It's preposterous that every issue devolves into Left vs. Right. It has castrated Congress.

If Congress wusses out on this issue, entrepreneurs and marketers will keep jumping in and profiting from America's increasingly separate cultures -- and they'll entrench the separation. Here's how the market solves it: Telemundo is the fastest-growing network on American TV. Good, in the short run, for Spanish speakers. Bad, in the long run, for a democratic community.
The fact that so many legislators active in making English official are conservative doesn't mean they're wrong on this. (And it doesn't make them less wrong on other social issues.)

Immigrants come to America for opportunities and constitutional protections (OK, maybe there aren't as many as there were seven years ago, but stay with me). If you want the advantages and protections the U.S. provides, learn English. If you don't want your kids to grow up ghettoized, learn English.

The U.S. is slowly splitting into two sub-nations. If you're in California, New Mexico, or Texas, you know I'm not exaggerating. Soon it'll be too late and we'll be seen as trying to take away a "right" to be educated, or vote, in another language.

It's not unfair to ask immigrants to learn English. They always have. It is unfair to ask American taxpayers to pay for immigrants to be schooled or vote in other languages within our borders. (With a possible exception for emergency rooms.)

Congressional Democrats could step up and be heroes here. I'm encouraged that many presidential candidates are way ahead of wuss-Congress on this (paging Hillary!). Because the costs -- monetary and social -- are paralyzing if we don't make English the official language.
I truly can't name one good reason why people seeking U.S. citizenship shouldn't learn English (though I'll bet I hear some in this space). English speakers rise faster, earn more, and, most important, become a truly engaged part of the American community.

It's not about sensitivity (c'mon, who's more sensitive than Reverend Camden?). It's about a diminishing commodity in American politics: common sense.

Register To Vote