Politics & Policy

John McCain, Multiculturalist

Immigration is just one problem.

We all know John McCain is terrible on immigration. For years he held America’s sovereignty and security hostage to amnesty and increased immigration, and his newfound support for “enforcement first” is so insubstantial and transparently insincere that it insults our intelligence. He’s so bad that Americans for Better Immigration ranks his performance in office as the worst of all the presidential candidates — including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. (See the GOP grid here and the Democratic one here.) And as Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation has pointed out, passage of McCain’s bill “would represent the largest expansion of the welfare state in 30 years.”

But his support for de facto open borders is merely one manifestation of a larger problem — John McCain is a multiculturalist.

I don’t mean he eats tacos at the Cinco de Mayo parade (nothing wrong with that!) — I mean he’s an ideological multiculturalist. Francis Fukuyama has described (PDF) the ideology of multiculturalism this way: “not just as tolerance of cultural diversity in de facto multicultural societies but as the demand for legal recognition of the rights of ethnic, racial, religious, or cultural groups.” At almost every turn over his entire public career, John McCain has supported the pluribus over the unum.

Take bilingual education. McCain has been an enthusiastic proponent of this divisive and discredited program for years. He was honorary co-host of the 1995 convention of the National Association for Bilingual Education; The New Republic reported that he wrote to convention participants that “[t]o reject a native language as a tool for teaching as well as enriching our national heritage makes learning all the more difficult and makes us a poorer nation.”

In 1998 he said, “I have always supported bilingual education programs to help students learn English. Proposals to restrict the use of languages other than English are always divisive.” That was the year that California voters approved Proposition 227, “English for the Children,” which (sort of) abolished bilingual education there.

In 1999 McCain was given the “Legislative Friendship Award” from LULAC, the League of Latin American Citizens, at which point, in the words of the Human Events report, he “hailed the bilingual education that Californians banned with the successful ‘English for the Children’ initiative last year. Insulting the motives of California voters, McCain told the LULAC banquet, ‘We don’t need laws that cause any American to believe we scorn their contributions to our culture.’” (The Los Angeles Times report noted wryly that “McCain’s remarks were all but indistinguishable from those of the vice president.”)

Despite the fact that he mentions the long-discredited “transition” rationale for bilingual education, McCain has embraced foreign-language maintenance as the real goal, buying into the “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us” justification for Hispanic group rights. This is what he means with his frequent references to the historical primacy of Spanish in Arizona.

McCain’s ideological multiculturalism is also apparent from his longstanding opposition to official status for the English language; as he boasted on Hardball in 2000, “I have fought against English-only ballot initiatives.” He started at least as far back as 1988, when he opposed Article 28, an official-English initiative approved by Arizona voters but thrown out by the courts.

More recently, he voted for the Salazar amendment to his 2006 amnesty bill, which would have codified Clinton’s Executive Order 13166. That order enshrines official, legally mandated multilingualism, requiring all government agencies and all recipients of federal funds to provide any services in any foreign language requested. (See the text here and more details here and here.) With his eye no doubt on the coming presidential race, he flip-flopped and voted against the very same amendment this past summer during the debate over his most recent amnesty bill.

In last June’s presidential debate in New Hampshire, when Wolf Blitzer asked if any of the candidates opposed official English, would they speak up — McCain spoke up, starting with a weasely “I think it’s fine,” then expounding on the language rights of American Indians. Another part of his response was revealing: “Everybody knows that English has to be learned if anyone ever wants to move up the economic ladder. That is obvious.” True enough, but that begs the question: The source of the public appeal of official English is that it asserts not merely a practical reason for newcomers to learn English but a moral obligation to do so. Throughout his public life McCain has repeatedly rejected the idea of such an obligation.

Multiculturalism is more than language, of course. McCain has also supported racial preferences and racial-identity politics. As Ward Connerly wrote in NR:

[In 1996], when a number of Republicans and others in Arizona sought to pass a bill in that state’s legislature outlawing race preferences, we were told by several Republican legislators that they had received calls from Sen. John McCain urging them not to support such a measure because — again, as always — it might “send the wrong message.”

Rick Santorum, in his recent interview with Hugh Hewitt, describes how McCain racialized the immigration issue to his fellow Republican senators:

[McCain] lectured us repeatedly about how xenophobic we were, lectured us, us being the Republican conference, about how wrong we were on this, how we were on the wrong side of history, and that you know, this is important for his . . . because having come from Arizona, knowing the strength of the Hispanic community, that we were going to be seen as racists, and he wasn’t going be part of that, that he was not a racist, and that if we were for tougher borders, it was a racist thing.

He did likewise in opposing Arizona’s Proposition 200 in 2006, which would have required proof of citizenship to register to vote, and legal status to access certain state benefits, saying that it would result in “racial profiling.”

Even on trivial matters, McCain adopts the racial-grievance worldview of the multiculturalists. When speaking to LULAC in 2000, the AP reports him saying this:

I am ashamed when demeaning stereotypes of Hispanic Americans substitute in our popular entertainment . . . for honest and realistic portrayals,” McCain said. “I know that for you to achieve fairer representation in popular media, you will have to achieve a greater representation in the executive suites and boardrooms of corporate media.

That’s not all. McCain also supported the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, which would have established a parallel government for people of Hawaiian ethnic origin. And on the Kennewick Man controversy, he sided with the American Indian tribes against the scientists.

It’s true that McCain has taken liberal stances on other issues — greenhouse emissions, free speech, judges — and those are all bad. But they don’t strike at the coherence of the American nation. We haven’t heard as much this time around about how McCain is the second coming of Theodore Roosevelt, but a comparison is striking. As John Fonte has suggested, McCain has kept TR’s progressivism, which is so unappealing to modern conservatives, but discarded precisely that which made TR attractive — his unapologetic assimilationism. Before anyone ever compares him to TR again, just try to imagine McCain saying this, from one of TR’s letters:

We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, and American nationality, not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house.

At almost every opportunity, John McCain has rejected the crucible and chosen the polyglot boarding house.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies

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