The Campaign Spot

Hillary’s Chief Strategist: ‘Let’s Get Over the Melting Pot Myth.’

Last week, when I noted that Mark Penn, Hillary’s chief strategist, had said that illegal immigrants were perhaps the most powerful force in American politics, it didn’t get a ton of attention beyond the great Rush Limbaugh. (Of course, once Rush notices, who needs the rest of the world?)

I picked up Penn’s book Microtrends, and there’s a section that spurred a similar, he-didn’t-just-write-that-did-he? reaction:

But most importantly, let’s get over the melting pot myth. The truth is we’re more like a Tower of Babel, doing remarkably well at communicating given the fact that U.S. residents today speak over 300 languages. (And who says that’s a lot? It’s about the same number as was true at America’s founding, and we now have sixty times more people.) The bottom line is that so long as we’re understanding each other – and no one (not even President Bush, who criticized it) misunderstood “The Star-Spangled Banner” when it was sung in Spanish at the 2006 immigration rallies – then we’re doing well.”
Vive la difference.

Oddly, the chapter, entitled “Native Language Speakers”, offers its own counterargument: Penn begins by noting the number of Americans where no one in the household speaks English very well has “shot up in recent years – by more than 50 percent, to nearly 12 million people.”
Penn puts that at about 1 in 25 households, and says 25 million Americans speak English either “not at all” or with limited proficiency.
He notes that “in over two-thirds of the households classified as linguistically isolated, the head of the household wasn’t even born in a foreign country; they were born right here in America. [Emphasis Penn’s.]“
Penn cites U.S. Department of Education figures showing, “people with limited English are less likely to be employed, less likely to be employed continuously, and more likely to work in the least desirable sectors. And their earning potential reflects it. According to Census data, linguistically isolated households are ten times more likely to have incomes under $15,000 than over $100,000.”
Does Hillary Clinton believe Americans should “get past the melting pot myth”?
UPDATE: A Tucson, Arizona Campaign Spot reader writes in with a differing take:

I question Mr. Penn’s analysis.  Last year I did an analysis of the number of voters who didn’t speak English so we would have an idea of how much to invest in Hispanic radio ads.  Although over 50% of our Congressional district is Hispanic (and we have the second largest border with Mexico of any congressional district, only 5% of the voters were considered Spanish speakers.  I don’t think we are as multi-lingual as some think.

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