A Renaissance for English

I spent this New Year’s at Hilton Head in South Carolina, attending Renaissance Weekend, the holiday gathering made famous during the early 1990s through the regular presence of the Clintons. Although the First Couple did not attend this year, the event did attract the usual number of prominent figures from politics, the media, academics, technology, and the business community.

While the organizers do make an effort to invite at least some Republicans and conservatives, the general tilt of the participants is decidedly liberal and Democratic, perhaps as high as 85% or 90% by my informal reckoning. From my own conversations and the general tone of cocktail party chatter, it is obvious that the vast majority of attendees adhere to the standard liberal positions on hot-button social issues such as abortion rights and gun control; I had a sense that most had never even met anyone in their lives who reasonably disagreed, and perhaps could not even imagine the existence of such individuals. This is only a slight exaggeration. For example, a couple of times speakers expressed some staunch liberal position, then half-jokingly suggested that Richard Viguerie—a prominent conservative activist in attendance—was probably the only member of the audience who could possibly disagree.

Given this atmosphere, it is particularly interesting that my various presentations on the success of Prop. 227 and the advisability of replacing bilingual education with English immersion attracted not a single objection during the full four days. Instead, numerous individuals- –most of them solid liberals—commended my efforts and strongly seconded my views, in some cases offering their future assistance in states like Massachusetts and New York. This merely confirms my extensive national polling data, which has indicated huge landslide support for “English” among liberals—even extreme liberals—just like among everyone else.

On another matter, yesterday saw the nomination of Linda Chavez for Labor Secretary, a pick which I would consider Bush’s strongest so far on the domestic policy side. I have known Linda for a number of years, consider myself very close to her ideologically on issues of race and ethnicity, and served on the early Board of her organization. By my reckoning, Linda is the only neoconservative selected by Bush, and is one of the very few Republicans in the Cabinet with clear roots in the Reagan rather than the Ford/Bush wing of the party.

Linda’s confirmation hearings should also represent an interesting test of the changed political landscape. For many years, bilingual activists had vilified her as a leading opponent of bilingual education, but I suspect that in the wake of Prop. 227, Democratic Senators will avoid this subject as much as possible, and may even be reluctant to raise somewhat related issues such as Linda’s tenure at U.S. English. Furthermore, the ideological transformation wrought by Prop. 227 might even allow Linda an easy line of counterattack against any liberal Senators who challenge her conservative views on completely unrelated topics: “You even used to believe in bilingual education for all those years, didn’t you—preventing millions of immigrant children from being taught English in school?” A policy position once seen as politically damaging may now be her strongest defense against any and all attacks.

Politicians rightly worry about becoming trapped on what is obviously destined to become the wrong side of history, and prefer to sneak away, unnoticed. Linda can prevent them from doing so, giving her a powerful looming threat as they question her.

Finally, the Sunday Boston Globe carried an even- handed account of the growing likelihood of “English” becoming an issue in Massachusetts.

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