CNN's Lou Dobbs asserted that in his July 8 remarks, Sen. Barack Obama was “out telling people to have their children not learn languages -- foreign languages, but specifically, while discussing the issue of illegal immigration, tells them they've got to learn Spanish.” In fact, Obama was responding to a question about education and bilingualism, not “illegal immigration,” and at no point in his remarks did he mention "illegal immigration."
On the July 11 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs falsely asserted that in his July 8 remarks, Sen. Barack Obama was “out telling people to have their children not learn languages -- foreign languages, but specifically, while discussing the issue of illegal immigration, tells them they've got to learn Spanish.” In fact, Obama was responding to a question about education and bilingualism, not “illegal immigration,” and while Obama did reference “immigrants,” at no point in his July 8 remarks did he mention “illegal immigration.”
Obama's comments came during a question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in Powder Springs, Georgia, on the economy. According to a Congressional Quarterly transcript of the event, an audience member asked the following question about education and bilingualism, not “illegal immigration” :
My question is, can there be a universal dropout age established? Let me go further with that. Here in Georgia, a student can drop out of school at 16, but you have to be 18 to enter into a legal contract, and you have to be 21 to drink. At 16, I'm not sure that a person understands the importance of education. And it's essential for them to be able to have the careers that they need to support their families when they're older. Additionally, I think that there should be a push more for our citizens to become bilingual here in America.
After addressing the first part of the question, Obama responded to the remark about bilingualism, in part, by asserting that “immigrants should learn English,” but he did not mention “illegal immigration” :
[N]ow, the second point you made is also excellent. We live in a global economy. And, you know, I don't understand when people are going around worrying about, “We need to have English- only.” They want to pass a law, “We want English-only.”
Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English -- they'll learn English -- you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.
You know, it's embarrassing -- it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say, “Merci beaucoup.” Right?
You know, no, I'm serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they're 5, or 6, or 7 than when they're 46, like me.
From the July 11 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
DOBBS: This ad will be running in three states, we're told by the McCain campaign, with large Hispanic populations: Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. Senator Obama is sparing no effort to pander to the illegal alien lobby himself. These two candidates working very hard to outdo one another in the pander-rama.
One example: Senator Obama's declaration this week that Americans should be sure their children speak Spanish. Obama today did what most candidates do when faced with a backlash and voter outrage: He issued a so-called clarification that stretches broadly the meaning of what he said and truth itself.
OBAMA [video clip]: I said something the other day down in Georgia, and the Republicans jumped on this. I said, you know, absolutely, immigrants need to learn English, but we also need to learn foreign languages.
DOBBS: Well, actually what the senator was, make sure your children learn Spanish. That's what he said, and he also said that he gets embarrassed that Americans go abroad and can't speak the language of the countries in which they're traveling. Well, the senator's explanation doesn't do much to straighten out the record. And as you just heard, the senator talked only about the need for children to learn foreign languages today, we -- not, as he said yesterday, be sure that your children learn Spanish.
We should note that both Senator Obama and Senator McCain this week will -- well, they're not through pandering. They will be addressing a pro-amnesty group, the National Council of La Raza.
ED ROLLINS (Republican strategist): So, it was a week of blunders, and I think part of it is that both of these people are trying to cover bigger bases than they had to.
ROBERT ZIMMERMAN (Democratic strategist): I think it's a valid point in this, especially regarding Obama's position on FISA, which I strongly disagree with, or his position on illegal immigration. But the point here is, both of them are going to get caught up in this game of gotcha, and the trick is not for them to be on the defensive. And that will be interesting to see how they --
DOBBS: Wait, wait, wait. May I say, Robert, they're no longer in the game of gotcha. The national news media is awakening to the fact that we have two very flawed candidates running for president of the United States. Even the national media that is so in the tank for Obama -- and now realizes you've got a man out telling people to have their children not learn languages -- foreign languages, but specifically, while discussing the issue of illegal immigration, tells them they've got to learn Spanish. I mean, the man -- this is ridiculous, what we're watching these two people do.