When I asked rhetorically this morning whether there was anything a conservative could object to in Tom Tancredo’s explanation for why he isn’t going to participate in the Spanish-language debate this weekend, several readers pointed to the quote I excerpted from the op-ed:
Can anyone imagine Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft having a Republican primary debate in German or Italian in 1912? Of course not.
They thought Tom’s choice of German and Italian was incendiary and intended to associate Mexico with the WWII misdeeds of those countries. I would have ignored one e-mail like that as silly, even two, but I got more, so let me explain (no, I didn’t ghost-write the op-ed). German and Italian happened to have been the top foreign languages in the country when TR and Taft were around, and for decades before and after. As I say in my upcoming book (Coming this summer! From Sentinel!):
A look at the 1910 Census illustrates this. At that time, the peak of the prior wave of immigration, the picture was much more diverse, despite the fact that virtually all immigrants were what we would now consider “white.” About one-quarter of the immigrant population was English- (or Celtic-) speaking (from Ireland, Britain, and Canada), and the other three-quarters spoke a wide variety of languages: about 21 percent of all immigrants spoke German, 10 percent Italian (in a variety of very different dialects), 10 percent Scandinavian languages (again, different from one another), about 7 percent each Yiddish and Polish, and so on.
Tancredo’s using any different languages as examples in that context would have been misleading, even dishonest.