Press “1” for English. Press “2” for Spanish.
But make a foreign-language speech in the U.S. Capitol, and you’re sure to press Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo’s buttons.
Colorado’s most famous culture warrior scoffed Thursday when told that Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado would make a Spanish-language version of the Democrats’ annual State of the Union preview speech.
“I must admit to you, the first thing that comes to mind is this is the kind of thing that would happen in a bilingual country — for instance, Canada,” Tancredo said in an interview. “I’ve been saying for a long time, we’re fast approaching that status: a bilingual country. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think it’s something that brings us apart, not together.”
Top Democratic leaders have delivered a speech before President Bush’s State of the Union address each year to offer their own perspective on issues facing the country. Because it involves criticism in advance, it’s sometimes called the “prebuttal” speech. Bush’s speech to Congress and the nation takes place Tuesday night.
This year, the new Senate majority leader — Nevada Democrat Harry Reid — and the new House speaker — California Democrat Nancy Pelosi — will split the duties with a joint appearance at the National Press Club in Washington.
For the first time, Democrats wanted to deliver a Spanish-language version. So they tapped Salazar, the Centennial State’s bilingual junior senator, to do the honors in a room at the U.S. Capitol.
“We want to reach as many people as possible,” Salazar spokesman Cody Wertz said.
The speech will cover topics like Iraq, education, health care, energy policy and other matters they think the country needs to face in the new year.
Using Spanish is not entirely new in this political realm. Tancredo’s Republican Party runs a Spanish-language web site and Spanish-language television programs to translate the party message.
Tancredo sometimes has accused fellow Republicans of pandering for Hispanic votes. He said Salazar’s preview speech takes it to a new level.
“It’s simply an example … the sort of political equivalent of ‘Push “1” for English and “2” for Spanish,’ ” Tancredo said.