Monday, June 04, 2007

Questions, Questions.

A lot of things developed over the weekend. Here is just one of the things getting some air time:


Democrats Clashed At New Hampshire Debate

Not much new here, but there's one thing in the article I found that puzzles me:

To a question on whether English should be the official language in the United States, only former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel raised his hand in the affirmative.

But Obama protested the question itself, calling it "the kind of question that was designed precisely to divide us." He said such questions "do a disservice to the American people."

Why is it that when a politician is asked a direct closed-ended question that he/she does not want to answer, he/she attacks the question?

How utterly arrogant is this?

In many people's minds in this country, this is a legitimate question. It requires a yes or no answer, and in true politician-like form it can even have a long-winded caveat attached to it, if it makes them feel better about it. But to attack this question or others that the voters want answered is, in my view, cowardly.

But, I reserve the real criticism for his reasoning in his calling into question, the question. The purpose of a debate is to divide the candidates, to see where they stand in the issues of the day. How can voters decide who they want to support if certain questions are not asked? Political parties are not some monolithic force or entity, they have divisions too. Why is it not fair to want to know the answer to this question, as part of the overall process of deciding who would be best suited to represent the party, in 08?

Look, voters decide what issues are issues not the politicians. They decide what they want to know about their representatives, they decide what are important to them. The problem with most of the elected officials today is, they have forgotten who they work for.

My thinking is, they certainly hope the American electorate is too ignorant to notice such blatant bait and switch techniques.

23 comments:

Mary Ellen said...

The purpose of a debate is to divide the candidates, to see where they stand in the issues of the day. How can voters decide who they want to support if certain questions are not asked?

LA

The purpose of that question had nothing to do with where the candidates stood on an issue, but what CNN/Wolf Blitzer could do to throw in a wedge issue. Republicans LOVE wedge issues and the Democrats aren't playing that game. Do you honestly think that this is high on the list of priorities for this upcoming election? I don't think so.

I also think Hillary took a leadership roll in that debate when she wouldn't play the hypothetical question game. If Blitzer can't come up with better questions than that, he shouldn't be doing the debates.

I think they should have had Jack Cafferty as the monitor, he doesn't mess around, it doesn't bother him to hit Dems or Republicans, he asks the questions that the American people want to know.

Mary Ellen said...

Look, voters decide what issues are issues not the politicians. They decide what they want to know about their representatives, they decide what are important to them.

Honestly, LA, how many American people care about this issue? The majority of the American people want to know what to do to get our troops home. They want to know how we are going to pay for this joke of a war. They want to know how they are going to pay for their prescription drugs and they want to know when our fuel prices are going to come down. The majority of Americans don't give a crap about that issue.

Of course, it was one of the namby pamby Republicans in the debate who got blasted for saying it was ok to fire a person if they were gay, then backtracked the next day with the excuse his hearing aide wasn't working. LOL!

LASunsett said...

ME,

//Honestly, LA, how many American people care about this issue?//

A recent Zogby Poll shows that 83% of the American people think that English should be the official language of this country. For those like yourself that may think this is a wedge issue, Rasmussen breaks down is down by party:

85% of Americans, including 92% of Republicans, 79% of Democrats, and 86% of those not affiliated with either party, favor making English the official language of the United States of America.

That doesn't sound like a wedge issue to me.

If you have ever been in a critical situation with an immigrant (that has lived here for a lengthy period of time and still cannot speak English well enough to communicate fairly well) and the information you need to gather from him or her is vital to the saving of his, her, or other lives, you would not minimize this in the interest of party politics.

You are right to point out that this isn't the only issue to be concerned about, but it is an issue because Americans say it is. And it is a fair question to be asked of each and every candidate, Dem or Rep., somewhere along the way.

H.R. 997 and S. 1335 are both pending in Congress right now. If they are to gather any steam and be passed, Americans deserve to know whether of not a candidate for President will sign or veto that legislation, should it be passed.

Mary Ellen said...

LA

Sure, when there is a poll, people will answer. It doesn't mean that it's all that important. Whether English is the official language or not, people will choose to learn it or not. We will always have to have interpreters, that isn't going to change.

I'm not saying that this isn't something that concerns some of the population, but it isn't the main concern of voters. It is a concern to some voters.

I certainly don't think it was the worst question asked in a debate...Chris Matthews asks the worst questions (he's a moron), but I have no doubt in my mine why it was asked. Obama called it right, he's very intuitive.

Anonim said...

I wonder why this question is not approached using the "small government" philosophy. To me, small government also means efficient legislation, i.e., not enacting laws or regulations unless there is no other way to address a given need or problem. The US has fared pretty well so far as an English-speaking country without such official language declaration. What made it so? Was there anything (any value) to it that was intrinsicly American? What will legislating language thus mean? Will it alter anything fundamental about America while trying to address an apparent problem? I don't know... just questions...

LASunsett said...

ME,

//I'm not saying that this isn't something that concerns some of the population.//

Some of the population? I would say that 85% of the population is not some of the population. And I am not arguing that it's the most important issue.

I would say that you are right when you say that Obama is intuitive. He certainly recognized the fact that 79% of Democrats are for English being the official language and he did not want to commit. He didn't want his "no" to be a part of the public record.

From a political standpoint, you may think it's smart politics (and it probably is), but from a principled standpoint, I think it's cowardly. If a candidate has a stance, he/she should have the guts to make that stand known to people that he/she is asking to vote for him/her, wouldn't you say?

LASunsett said...

Anonim,

Those are fair questions to ask in the process of coming to a decision on whether you support or do not support it. But my point is, politicians (in this case Mr. Obama) dodge this and many other questions far too often.

Look, if he doesn't support it, fine. But he should let it be known that he doesn't and explain why. What I am objecting to is, when these people insult the American people's intelligence, by saying it isn't a fair question. I especially do so, when the overwhelming majority of the people say it is.

They do it most of the time, on both sides of the aisle. This is but one example.

Anonim said...

LA, I see (and saw) your point. I was not picking on it per se. (Next time I will try to acknowledge the main point before saying something different. :)

Mary Ellen said...

Some of the population? I would say that 85% of the population is not some of the population. And I am not arguing that it's the most important issue.

Wait a minute....maybe I didn't make myself clear. When someone calls for a poll to ask a particular question, they will be a part of that poll when they give an answer. Does that mean that this particular question is important to them? Or, did they just answer what was asked?

What Obama was doing was steering the debate to the issues that are most important on voters minds. He wants to get his message out and he wasn't going to let Wolf Blitzer keep him from doing that.

In the Republican debates, if I recall, Guilliani ditched a lot of questions and just decided to answer to the questions that were directed to someone else. He ignored the original questions. All politicians do this in debate...not just Democrats. I have to admire Obama for making his point clear.

LASunsett said...

ME,

//Does that mean that this particular question is important to them? Or, did they just answer what was asked?

What Obama was doing was steering the debate to the issues that are most important on voters minds.//


Then, how is the importance of an issue determined? Who determines what issue is important? The media? The politicians? The polls?

You are right. Obama did know what he was doing. He was highly aware of the polls and did not want to damage himself by going against what they are showing.

Mustang said...

LA said, "My thinking is, they certainly hope the American electorate is too ignorant to notice such blatant bait and switch techniques." If they do hope that, they are probably correct; most of the electorate vote with their hearts, not their heads. Actually, I have a theory that politicians try to make "thinking" Americans upset early in the game, because that way we'll get fed up with the process and won't even show up on voting day; then, they "win" by fait accompli.

But I'd like to address the observation made by Anonim. The "small government" idea makes great sense to me, who basically thinks that government needs careful oversight because government cannot be trusted. On the other hand, does Anonim have any idea how many tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars of the tax payer's money is spent on "foreign language" government publications? Start with driver's license booklets and tests, and then consider that every "high stakes" state high school exam is published in at least two languages. In New york City, I believe that these tests are published in as many as 100 different languages.

The issue of "official language" is not moot. Language is how we identify with one another culturally. So either we want a uniquely American culture, or we don't. Considering the number of illegal aliens running around inside this country, we ought to decide this issue sooner rather than later.

LA . . . again, you've written an excellent article.

Semper Fi

Mary Ellen said...

LA


You are right. Obama did know what he was doing. He was highly aware of the polls and did not want to damage himself by going against what they are showing.


Yeah, LA...right. You've got his number. (eye rolls)

Mary Ellen said...

mustang

Many countries have foreign language government publications. How many countries do you think don't have English as a second language? Should they not do that? Should everyone be expected to know a language as soon as they get here? Could you move to France and have the language down pat within a year?

If this is what the US wants, then they should not expect to go to a foreign country and whine about how nothing is written in English.

No matter what the US decides, we will have to continue to use interpreters or have our government publications in Spanish. Face it, Spanish is here to stay in the US. Get used to it and adjust. Just as English and French are both spoken in Canada.

Anonim said...

Mustang, I had/have no idea as to the $ figure spent for foreign language government publications and other things you mention. But I have one anectodal encounter with the practice.

About ten years back. I am at drivers license office. I present my passport and visa papers to the clerk behind the counter. He looks them over and asks what language I want to write the test in. I don't understand the question, and say, "what?" He repeats himself, and asks what language is spoken in Turkey. I say, "Turkish!" He says, "wait a minute," and disappears into a room. Couple of minutes later, he reappears apologizing profusely for they don't have the test in Turkish. He offers Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, etc. if I speak any of them. I say (to myself mostly), "Hellooo? Are you stupid or something? What language am I using to talk to you? I want to write the test in English."

Not that I am reaching big conclusions based on this, but it deeply impressed me at the time. I said, "how very kind of these Americans" and "sort of stupid" both at the same time.

LASunsett said...

Anonim,

//I said, "how very kind of these Americans" and "sort of stupid" both at the same time.//

For the most part, we are a kind and accepting nation that tries to accommodate those that come here to visit or to live. We have our share of jerks and bigots to be sure, but overall I would say that the majority of people here recognize that this is a nation, built by immigrants.

When I was lived in Germany many years ago, I learned as much German as I could in order to function better. Many Germans spoke a functional amount of English and could get by. Many spoke it fluently.

But if Americans were arrogant enough to approach a German and speak English to them, many Germans would reply, "nicht verstehen" (which means I do not understand).

On the other hand, if an American would approach a German and attempt to communicate in German, the German would start talking English to them. They respected the fact that although they may have butchered the German language badly, at least an attempt was being made.

If I were to go to France, you can bet your bottom dollar, I had better make an attempt to learn French. And in all seriousness, they would not be as accommodating to me as the Germans were.

I am glad that you were able to see fairly quickly how accommodating we can be. Our heart is in the right place, even though the utility of such accommodation is questionable. ;)

Mustang said...

Mary Ellen:

I’ve been to a number of foreign countries, and I do not recall even one that has government publications in the English language. Neither have I ever seen traffic signs in English – most countries relied upon “international signs,” which is perfectly acceptable. Because I lived in Japan for nine years, I speak Japanese. I wanted to learn the language so that I could better interact with the Japanese people.

I do think you are confusing the issue here. I do not expect an immigrant from Norway to give up his or her native language; but I do expect that person to learn English IF they intend to find their way into America’s mainstream. As I said in my original comment, it is one thing to develop the ability to speak several languages, but it is quite another thing to refuse to learn English – or to expect society to accommodate you because you happen to speak a language other than English. People who have lived in this country for generations and still speak no English have not “embraced” American society. They remain apart from us on purpose, and it is my view that such a situation isn’t very healthy – for the immigrant or for American society – whether psychologically, economically, or even spiritually. This was a lesson well learned by Rome, who expected all of its citizens (no matter where they came from) to learn Latin; this may account for the fact that Rome lasted for a thousand years. It is beyond me that modern citizens fail to grasp the importance of language in developing a coherent society, and if we continue this trend of accommodation, then we should not expect the United States to last even half as long as did Rome.

Finally, let me comment on your Canadian example: it makes my point exactly. There is a major rift between English and French speaking Canadians – precisely because they speak different languages, the nation is seriously split into two camps. So much so, in fact, that French Canadians came dangerously close to breaking away from the Canadian commonwealth. Please consider your position more carefully, because more harm is being done by obliging some foreign language speakers, and ignoring others. As Anonim pointed out, why do some governments provide German publications, but none in Turkish? No – if we want to accommodate foreign speakers, then let us provide them with instruction in English. And, it ought to be mandatory – just the way it is in (gasp) France.

Greg said...

I missed the debate b/c I was at the Sox-Yankees game, but I have read all the comments and got the low-down from my afternoon talk radio guy.

Honestly, I think the question is a little misleading. While officially recognizing English as the language of the country is unnecessary, I do not like the pervasiveness of Spanish in this country. The question should have been, "Do you think the government should recognize and use languages other than English?"

Did you know that states and municipalities are required to print their election ballots in Spanish and other languages where the population of speakers meets a certain threshold? Is that not crazy?

When I see stuff like this from the Democratic presidential candidates, it makes me think I will never be able to vote Democrat again. But then Hillary says we are safer now than on 9/11 and I think maybe they aren't all completely out of touch.

Anonim said...

LA, I am by now fully aware of all you say.

Following Greg's lead, saying "the Congress conducts its business in English" might be enough. You certainly don't want a representative or senator who needs interpretation.

LASunsett said...

Anonim,

//You certainly don't want a representative or senator who needs interpretation.//

That goes double for an emergency room doctor, no?

Anonim said...

//That goes double for an emergency room doctor, no?//

I guess, yes. But you've gotta explain to me what that means. Yeah, I'm learning something new about American English...

Anonim said...

Oh, no, I got it now. I thought you were pulling idiomatic English on me... (I hope you had a good laugh. You're welcome.)

LASunsett said...

Anonim,

I try not to use too much slang when addressing your comments, because of the language barrier. The thing I want everyone to understand in this topic is, in healthcare having to use a translator can mean the difference between life or death. Hospitals are spending a lot of money to use translators, but in the time it takes to get one on the scene, valuable time can be lost, if the patient's condition is critical.

My comment about having to translate for the emergency room doctor wasn't entirely meant as a joke. It's a real issue in healthcare.

Greg said...

A little personal anectdote about language, since LAS mentioned ER doctors.

The medical facility where we bring our daughter for her pediatric check-ups is primarily Spanish speaking. My wife has had occasion to encounter a receptionist who had to go fetch an English speaker to deal with my wife.

Recently, we received a phone message in Spanish. Neither of us speak Spanish. We thought it must be a wrong number, so we just deleted it. Well, it turned out, they were calling to reschedule my daughter's appointment, which my wife discovered only after she had taken time from work to go there for the original appointment.

We're currently trying to find a new facility (partly b/c of this issue, but mostly b/c the pediatrician is leaving the area), but the problem is that many of the facilities in my area are primarily Spanish-speaking.

I'm all for diversity, but this is just ridiculous. I don't go to Mexico and expect them to speak my language. In fact, I don't go to Mexico - it's filthy and crime-ridden. No wonder half their citizens live here.