Ehrlich calls multiculturalism 'bunk', 'damaging to society'
Governor on radio show backs Schaefer's remarks
By David Nitkin
May 9, 2004
The concept of multiculturalism is "bunk" and "damaging to the
society," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said in defending remarks about
non-English speakers made by political ally Comptroller William Donald
"Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk, that some folks
are teaching in our college campuses and other places, you run into a
problem," Ehrlich, a Republican, said during an appearance on WBAL
radio Thursday. "There is no such thing as a multicultural society that
can sustain itself, in my view, and I think history teaches us this
Ehrlich's comments came as he was asked about remarks made a day
earlier by Schaefer, who opened Wednesday's state Board of Public Works
meeting with a diatribe about his trouble placing an order at an Anne
Arundel County McDonald's restaurant because of the counter staff's
limited knowledge of English.
"Then I got a bag, and instead of having English on it, it had Spanish
and German and every other" language, Schaefer said. "I don't want to
adjust to another language. This is the United States. I think they
ought to adjust to us."
Ehrlich did not attend the public works meeting because he was at a
funeral, but he said in the radio interview that he supported
Ehrlich has worked hard to keep on his side the cantankerous Schaefer,
whose vote the governor needs to approve most state spending and other
policy decisions on the three-member panel.
"With regard to this culture, English is the language," Ehrlich said.
"Can [immigrants] obviously honor their ethnic traditions and languages
at home and other places? Of course. They are not mutually exclusive.
The point here is there is a major distinction between ethnic pride,
which is appropriate, and multiculturalism, which is damaging to the
society in my view."
Ehrlich did not define what he meant by multiculturalism, a term that
has been the subject of fierce debate that has included overtones of
political correctness and racism.
The concept has its roots in the 1960s, as growing numbers of educators
came to believe that school curriculums focused on Western European
values, history and literature to the exclusion of other views.
As the concept took hold, a backlash developed.
"In fact, any group can identify itself as a marginalized culture
group," wrote Don Closson, a theologian with Texas-based Probe
Ministries in a paper on multiculturalism available on the group's Web
site. "The homeless become a cultural group, as do single mothers on
welfare. Should their perspectives get equal treatment in our schools?"
Said Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel
College in Westminster: "One of the complaints is that the
multicultural curriculum pushes into and intrudes into the teaching of
American history, given that there are only so many hours in a week."
Steven L. Kreseski, Ehrlich's chief of staff, said the governor spent
time thinking about the concept as a congressman. Ehrlich believes that
different ethnic groups should embrace American values such as
capitalism and the celebration of Thanksgiving, Kreseski said. Kreseski
pointed to Quebec as a place where debates over language and cultures
have produced damaging results.
Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat and one of a
handful of Hispanics in the General Assembly, said he agrees with the
governor's views that immigrants should assimilate into society,
without giving up their cultural touchstones.
But he said the governor should have stayed out of the debate, because
his statements may generate confusion and hostility.
"It just seems to me that the governor should set a higher tone. You
can sometimes set a higher tone by refusing to exacerbate a problem,"
"As someone who sees the positive contributions Spanish-speaking
residents are making every day, I see Governor Schaefer's comments as
mean-spirited, and Governor Ehrlich's comments as opportunistic," he
A broader discussion of the rights and roles of immigrants was
aggressively debated in Annapolis this year. Republican delegates from
Baltimore County introduced bills that restricted illegal immigrants
from borrowing vehicles or obtaining identification papers, but the
measures were defeated.
Ehrlich has worked, however, to enlarge his administration's outreach
to minority groups. He has refocused the state's minority business
laws, and has attempted to give Hispanics a larger role - with uneven
By making his comments on AM radio, Ehrlich ran little risk of
political damage, said Smith.
"He's speaking for his core constituency: the Republicans in Maryland.
It's a pretty monochromatic choir in the main," he said.