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Barack Obama's Four Languages.--

Via Instapundit and Kaus, I read that Barack Obama couldn't speak Spanish. But in 1997, he claimed to a reporter that he could speak a barely passable Spanish, one of four languages that he claimed varying abilities to speak:

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, April 26, 1997

LAWYER-LEGISLATOR BREATHES LIFE INTO THE DREAMS OF HIS FATHER

David Heckelman

"Living in Indonesia was a fascinating time," Obama said, "because it gave me a good sense of what the Third World was like and what an emerging nation goes through." He learned to speak the Indonesian language while living there.

"I also speak a barely passable Spanish, and sometimes a barely passable English," he said, having studied the Spanish language and English literature at Occidental College in Los Angeles and at Columbia University in New York.

"I have a smattering of Swahili," he added, "because my father was from Kenya." He said he had traveled to that country to learn more about his father, who had died in 1980 and whom he had not known very well.

I know that Obama is more fluent in English than most of us.

Does anyone know how fluent he is in his other three languages, especially Spanish?

EPluribusMoney (mail):
And how about his daughters? He says children should learn other languages. How many languages are his daughters learning as well as how many do he and his wife speak?
7.10.2008 11:51pm
GaltLives:
If anyone got an advantage from being born black it is him. Even leaving out Columbia and Harvard do you think his wife would have even married him if he was Stanley Ann's white child?
7.10.2008 11:58pm
pgepps (www):
Pretty hard to be any serious sort of academic wihtout having at least studied three or four languages. I'm not a particularly language-learning-prone person, and I have four (other than English)--two dead, plus barbaric French and taxicab-quality Japanese....
7.10.2008 11:59pm
James Lindgren (mail):
At the University of Chicago Lab School, which Obama's daughters attend (and which is just outside my window), children start languages very early. I don't remember the exact year of school, but I think it might be 1st grade.

BTW, yesterday my daughter saw one of the Obama girls with her summer class group having a snack at a UC ice cream shop.
7.11.2008 12:06am
James Lindgren (mail):
Obama graduated with honors from the Harvard Law School. That would likely include a lot of large blind-graded exam courses, so he must have done fairly well even in non-seminar courses.

Intellectually, he's pretty impressive, especially compared to the recent nominees--Bush, Kerry, McCain, and Gore. Gore did so poorly that he struggled and dropped out of Divinity School at Vanderbilt.
7.11.2008 12:13am
James Lindgren (mail):
Oh, and HE CAN WRITE!!!
7.11.2008 12:14am
Constantin:
No, the guy that feeds the teleprompter is more fluent in English than most of us. Obama, not so much.

7.11.2008 12:23am
Cornellian (mail):
If anyone got an advantage from being born black it is him. Even leaving out Columbia and Harvard do you think his wife would have even married him if he was Stanley Ann's white child?

Personally, I think Michelle Obama is kinda hot, but I'm sure there are people out there who would not regard being married to her as an advantage.
7.11.2008 12:39am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
I surveyed the Presidential candidates' language abilities last year. Obama's Spanish is apparently not entirely trivial but still pretty limited. He is said to have given a radio speech in Spanish - the taping was reported to have been "tedious". His Indonesian is said to be fluent. It is likely that it was once fluent since he lived in Indonesia from age 6 to age 10 and attended Indonesian schools. However, as far as I can tell, he has not had much opportunity to keep up his Indonesian. Not only would I expect it to be rusty, but if he ceased to learn it at age 10 he is unlikely ever to have attained full adult competence.
7.11.2008 12:58am
Dave N (mail):
I'm betting that John McCain speaks "taxicab" Vietnamese.
7.11.2008 1:35am
Nels Nelson (mail):
Well, my Spanish was certainly a lot better 11 years ago than it is today, and I imagine the same is true for almost everyone who studied a language in the past but hasn't used it much since.
7.11.2008 1:49am
SirBillsalot (mail):
"Well, my Spanish was certainly a lot better 11 years ago than it is today, and I imagine the same is true for almost everyone who studied a language in the past but hasn't used it much since."

Which, of course, is one of the reasons why native English speakers' language ability in other languages is lower than non-native English speakers' abilities in English. Even if you do study another language, you will likely have much fewer opportunities to practice than people who learn as a second language the international language of commerce.
7.11.2008 6:28am
Happyshooter:
Why do you question his statements? You must be opposed to Hope and Change!
7.11.2008 8:45am
Just Dropping By (mail):
Most reporting that I've seen on the subject suggests that Obama's Spanish skills are better than he himself publicly acknowledges.
7.11.2008 9:02am
Andy L.:
Must be a slow news/blog day, huh? Sorry, but the fact that InstaPundit and Kaus link to somebody who kinda asserts that maybe Obama doesn't speak much Spanish, is really lame. In the same vein as "was he really a law professor", now we're going to parse the true meaning of "barely passable Spanish"? No mas, por favor.
7.11.2008 9:07am
corneille1640 (mail):
I'm confused about what's at stake here. If Mr. Obama himself says he speaks "barely passable" Spanish, is it such a shocking revelation that he speaks Spanish poorly? If he does speak Spanish poorly, that fact only says that he was telling the truth.
7.11.2008 9:15am
Dittybopper:
I'm betting that McCain knows Morse code better than Obama.
7.11.2008 9:15am
edh (mail):
peepps,

Pretty hard to be any serious sort of academic wihtout having at least studied three or four languages.

Why's that?

I'm not a particularly language-learning-prone person, and I have four (other than English)--two dead, plus barbaric French and taxicab-quality Japanese...

Congratulations (smug alert).
7.11.2008 9:16am
Sarcastro (www):
Why won't Obama release his school transcripts, or speak these languages he claims to know?! He must be hiding something...I'll betcha he learned one of them Islamick languages.

And many thanks to Constantin for pointing out that Obama reads his speeches. Obama is using camera tricks to deceive the American people into thinking he's speaking, when really he's reading stuff he wrote earlier!

Next you'll be telling me Obama's using other people's money to run his campaign! Scandalous!
7.11.2008 9:18am
Paul A'Barge (mail):
do you think his wife would have even married him if he was Stanley Ann's white child?

The man's wife is an opportunist of the first rank. Like most black women, she would have jumped at the chance to marry a white man.
7.11.2008 9:52am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> Pretty hard to be any serious sort of academic wihtout having at least studied three or four languages.

That depends on what sort of academic one is.

And, even if true, what of it? Is being an academic a qualification for president? Should every American be expected to be an academic?

I note that typical mono-lingual Americans can talk with a higher percentage of their countrymen than Euros can talk with their fellow Euros. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that Americans are smarter because we arranged things so Bostonians could speak/understand Texican?
7.11.2008 9:55am
ejo:
what, BHO doesn't send his children to public schools but instead sends them to private ones-shocking. could someone please explain the intellectual impressiveness of the candidate? he didn't leave a mark in the legal profession. he didn't leave a mark in the illinois senate. he didn't leave a mark in academia. he didn't leave a mark in the business world. sometimes professors get starry eyed when they see people in the exact same environment as them (the Hyde Park coccoon) doing well. he is a good politician-what in his background shows more than that?
7.11.2008 10:13am
Leopold Stotch:

Intellectually, he's pretty impressive, especially compared to the recent nominees--Bush, Kerry, McCain, and Gore. Gore did so poorly that he struggled and dropped out of Divinity School at Vanderbilt.


And McCain has made no secret of the fact that he graduated very near the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy -- fifth from last, if I recall correctly. (In fact he made light of it in his commencement address to my class.) No doubt his low class rank was in part a function of his discipline problems. (He seems to have spent the better part of his four years on restriction.) Still, fifth from the bottom -- and that at a time when the service academies were, I think, less academically rigorous than today -- doesn't suggest a towering intellect.
7.11.2008 10:14am
sbron:
Everybody is missing the point of the bilingual issue. The question is about bilingual education for Latino immigrant children. But bilingual education in most of the Southwest has really meant monolingual Spanish. In California, children born in the US to Mexican parents were being kept in mostly Spanish instruction through the sixth grade. This has ended to some extent, but not entirely, with the passage of Prop. 227.

Where I live, the local school board abolished monolingual Spanish education prior to 227. The public hearings on this were very revealing. One Mexican parent stated "We were here first and we spoke Spanish." The issue is not one of pedagogy or multilingualism, but one of nationality and reconquista.

Finally, if English-speaking children have to learn a second language, why does it always have to be Spanish? Why not Mandarin?
7.11.2008 10:16am
Sarcastro (www):
Paul A'Barge, your insight into the mind of Black women is astounding!

It's so sad that Michelle settled for Obama. I'm tempted to offer my services as a mariagable white man to her, as based on your evidence, I have no doubt she'd jump at the chance I'm offering her!
7.11.2008 10:17am
ejo:
it's important that they be academics because we all know how well run our academic institutions are. we also know how well the academy matches the rest of lesser america in terms of its social opinions and politics.
7.11.2008 10:20am
Sarcastro (www):
I begin to wonder if Obama is borderline retarded. I mean, he hasn't left his mark on anything!

I know the only way I can judge someone's inteligence is if they've accomplished something big in politics in before. Crap like their speeches and teaching at Harvard are Red Herrings.

You need to leave a MARK on somethin' if you're gonna be a good president! I mean, Reagan totally left his mark on California before he became president, what with his War on Hippies.
7.11.2008 10:26am
30yearProf:
If he were fluent in Spanish, you can bet he'd be using it every time he passed an Hispanic voter.
He's not.
He isn't.
7.11.2008 10:28am
JosephSlater (mail):
30yearProf: Of course, Obama never claimed to be fluent in Spanish.

Paul A'Barge: Like most black women, she would have jumped at the chance to marry a white man. It's sad that only Sarcastro picked up on this fine piece of racial insight.

Beyond that, yeah, the people trying to make this into an "issue" seem almost laughably desperate. Can we start speaking of an "ODS" -- "Obama Derangement Syndrome" yet?
7.11.2008 10:44am
ejo:
sarcy translation-"business, no. legal profession, no. illinois senate, no. since I don't have a response, I will let loose some inanities". the professor mentioned the candidate's intellect. I noted the lack of accomplishment. if the "intellect", absent any other qualification is your cup of tea, I think we need to elect that Vos Savant lady who does the weekly column in Parade Magazine.
7.11.2008 10:57am
Leopold Stotch:

It's sad that only Sarcastro picked up on this fine piece of racial insight.



No, others picked up on it. It's just that some ideas are so stupid they don't deserve to be dignified with substantive responses. For once, Sarcastro's response is satisfactory.
7.11.2008 11:02am
Gullyborg (www):
I could be wrong, but I think the President who has been most capable with the Spanish language is George W. Bush...
7.11.2008 11:03am
CJColucci:
'Fess up, the point of this otherwise seemingly pointless post was to bring out the deranged responses, wasn't it?
7.11.2008 11:22am
dearieme:
Hold on, I thought this chap went to an elite private High School. Can you do that and learn no French?
7.11.2008 11:22am
beamish:
7.11.2008 11:23am
Mr L (mail):
Oh, wah wah wah. People did the same in regard to George Bush's Spanish proficiency, even though he's definitely a better speaker than Obama and it worked pretty well with Latino voters. Hell, just Googling up innocuous phrases like 'George Bush speaks Spanish' will get you identical hit pieces on the first or second result. If we can mock Bush for kinda-sorta-passable Spanish with a few gaffes, we can mock Ye Chosen One for boasting that he can speak four languages while talking down to Americans for being monolingual savages when his 'expertise' doesn't even match that level.
7.11.2008 11:27am
willis (mail):
"Most reporting that I've seen on the subject suggests that Obama's Spanish skills are better than he himself publicly acknowledges."

Of course, most reporting comes from the mainstream media.
7.11.2008 11:31am
Sarcastro (www):
I always suspected Presidents Lincoln, Wilson, Reagan and W. Bush were kinda dumb, but I couldn't figure out why.

Now I know it's because they hadn't left a real mark on anything before being president!

Every smart person I know totally marks wherever they are, whenever they want!

Constantly distinguishing oneself is the ONLY measure of whether someone should be president. Policies, leadership qualities and charisma bedamned!
7.11.2008 11:31am
Sarcastro (www):
I would also like to say that teaching at Harvard and community organizing are lame things for losers.
7.11.2008 11:37am
JosephSlater (mail):
dearieme:

Actually, I just got back from France and met an elderly French woman who told me she preferred Hillary to Obama because Hillary spoke French well and Obama didn't. As to what you learn in fancy prep schools, you might want to ask Sen. McCain.
7.11.2008 11:37am
ejo:
I believe he taught (lectured) at U of C. can you tell me what a community organizer is? what community did BHO actually organize? what were the goals of the organizing? remember, before you respond, that cook county and chicago are one party towns. we also know that the law firm he was affiliated is run by a political insider who is a developer himself-might want to go to the boston.com article that addressed the issues to educate yourself.
7.11.2008 11:53am
Palapala (mail):
James Lindgren: Oh, and HE CAN WRITE!!!

Apparently, Mr. Lindgren, you have not read "Dreams From My Father."
7.11.2008 12:05pm
Sarcastro (www):
Indeed, ejo. Getting stuff done in a one party town is well known to be super easy.

I mean, getting people to petition the government for redress of their grevences is a cinch. Cause people are never apathetic, and one party governments tend to be quite responsive to citizen's needs!

I would expect a man of any intelligence at all to clean up Chicago's South side. Instead, he indulged in silly little crap like getting asbesdos out of tenament housing and getting people into job training. And the voter drives!Could Obama have been more of a loser?

Real leaders make fat sacks of cash money from law firms, and then go on to make their mark in some cabinet position or in the Senate. Anything else is surely a sign of a total empty suit!
7.11.2008 12:10pm
MartyA:
"Does anyone know how fluent he is in his other three languages, especially Spanish?"
He lived in Indonesia until he was ten and must consider one of his languages an Indonesian one. He also, in some interview, recited the Arabic call to prayer.
7.11.2008 12:15pm
ejo:
don't know what a community organizer is, huh? nice aggressive defense there but we still don't know what one is. I guess if you know nothing about chicago and probably couldn't even tell us who emil jones is and why he has any significance, you can't really answer much of anything, eh?
7.11.2008 12:20pm
Mhoram:
Doesn't Bill Clinton speak pretty good German? I seem to remember him speaking auf Deutsch with Helmut Kohl one time.
7.11.2008 12:36pm
Sarcastro (www):
I thought we were talking about Obama, but it is a much more important to discuss definitions than what he actually did.

Words matter!
7.11.2008 12:44pm
ejo:
again, if you can't tell us what a community organizer is, you can't really tell us "what he did" since that, supposedly, is his claim to fame.
7.11.2008 12:46pm
Sarcastro (www):
This just in: Listing acts someone did is insufficent to describe what the did.
7.11.2008 12:50pm
dr:
i would just point out AGAIN that barack obama did not "boast" that he was fluent in four languages. he said he spoke "barely passable" spanish, among others. he clearly DOWNPLAYED his own language abilities...and yet there remains a contingent of losers here who are doing backflips to somehow prove that...what? that his spanish is only barely passable?

what, exactly, is the point? at least the professorship argument -- dumb as it was -- was a dispute about a point of fact. here we have people trying to prove obama is a liar by attempting to prove that what he says is true. up is down, down is up, people.

good god, you people are idiots. (no, i'm not talking about you. but the rest of them.)
7.11.2008 12:52pm
Sarcastro (www):
Unless Sarcastro can define community organizer (and he totally didn't take public interest law at American University), Obama is a dullard.
7.11.2008 12:56pm
astrangerwithcandy (mail):
slater -

obama's languages would be a non-issue if Obama hadn't poo-poo'd on everyone who isn't multi-lingual. you know this. yet, you act smug and ignorant of where this is coming from. good for you. apparently you also have ODS - though of a different kind.
7.11.2008 12:59pm
ejo:
www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/070826/3obama_2.htm\

here you go-he got free cookies. they do manage to define terms. no long term progress, unfortunately. still have asbestos. still poor. I did your research for you.
7.11.2008 1:00pm
Sarcastro (www):
Well, based on your one source, since community organizers regularly make large changes in one-party systems, I guess that makes Obama a loser. And stupid.

Glad we've cleared this up.
7.11.2008 1:11pm
JosephSlater (mail):
dr. is of course, correct.

astrangerwithcandy:

Yeah, I'm the deranged one. I mean, I wouldn't count myself as multilingual (my French is barely passable, although on this thread some might think I'm boasting). So, obviously, I "know" that Obama, in your phrase, "poo-poo'd on me." And yet I remain "smug and ignorant" of my true interests, what is an important issue this is, and Obama in genera! You really got me good and I'm going to re-evaluate everything now.
7.11.2008 1:41pm
ejo:


here's another good one form you, in terms of what a community organizer is and does. it seems to work out pretty well for the people like Davis, his former boss. for the poor schlubs, not so much.
7.11.2008 1:55pm
ejo:
sorry my link to the 6.27.08 Boston.com article didn't come through. I guess you can find it yourself-might teach you a little bit.
7.11.2008 1:56pm
courtwatcher:
Jim,
I'm puzzled by the Kaus and Reynolds links that say he "can't speak Spanish." These appear to me to link to Abe Greenwald, who links to a WaPo Dana Milbank opinion column in which Milbank simply asserts that Obama doesn't speak Spanish. Is there some evidence for this that I'm not seeing?

Also: I'm continually amazed by folks who are so partisan, sure of themselves, and lacking in research skills as to not understand that being magna cum laude (top 10% of the class) at Harvard Law School is something that only very smart people accomplish. Many classes are blind-graded. It's hard to do well at HLS. There is no special scale for African Americans once they get into law school. Obama excelled there.
7.11.2008 3:02pm
sbron:

Also: I'm continually amazed by folks who are so partisan, sure of themselves, and lacking in research skills as to not understand that being magna cum laude (top 10% of the class) at Harvard Law School is something that only very smart people accomplish. Many classes are blind-graded. It's hard to do well at HLS. There is no special scale for African Americans once they get into law school. Obama excelled there.


I and probably most of Obama's critics do not disagree that he is very intelligent. But someone who is intelligent may have a vision for the U.S. that is not in the nation's best interests. In Obama's case, his answer to the bilingual education question again illustrates that his vision of the U.S. is as a multicultural society with less emphasis on assimilation. Obama's continued critcisms of Ward Connerly's anti-preference initiatives, and calls for higher taxes illustrate that he believes in redistribution not just on economic lines but on racial ones also.

Criticizing him for his views does not mean I doubt his intelligence, just that I greatly disagree with his vision for America (the nation, not the continent.)
7.11.2008 3:10pm
courtwatcher:
sbron,
I take and respect your point (though I disagree on the substance and will be voting for Obama). But there are many VC commenters (including on this thread) who disparage his intelligence and imply or state directly that he would not have succeeded to the point he has so far except on account of his race.
7.11.2008 3:58pm
tgb1000 (mail):
Prof. Lindgren really cracked this one wide open. This belongs on the front page. (But of course it won't - damn MSM!) Obama said he spoke "barely passable" Spanish when in fact he might only speak "slightly less than barely passable" Spanish. (Or maybe not.) That makes him a dirty stupid liar who should never be President and raise my taxes! (This is the issue we Republicans really care about, but instead we'll use these lame, meaningless "gotcha's" to try to sway the swing voters.)
7.11.2008 4:19pm
ejo:
most people note that whatever intelligence that appears to exist has not been matched by any degree of accomplishment. John Edwards is an accomplished ambulance chaser. Mitt Romney a successful businesman. John McCain can claim some degree of success in politics. Hillary Clinton was married to Bill Clinton.

when you get past the fact that Obama did well in law school, what do you get? an uneventful legal career. an irrelevant stay as one of Emil Jones' votes in the Illinois Senate. work as a community organizer, something even as vast an intellect as sarcy can't define. one can moon over the intellect all one wants and still not be able to address accomplishment. harvard/yale/u of c/stanford/"fill in the blank" will graduate magnas every year-what comes next should be an important topic if you are voting on a president, don't you think?
7.11.2008 4:20pm
inmypajamas:
The point of this whole issue is the shameless arrogance of some holier-than-thou elitist who has no fluency himself in either French or Spanish lecturing us on how poorly our inability to speak either language reflects on us. Jerk. He regularly indulges himself in giving voice to the most cartoony stereotypes of people outside his little elevated circle. Soros needs to spend some cash buying this guy a clue.

Like the poster above pointed out, if the Messiah had any fluency in Spanish, he would be using it. GW sure used his (and abused it, truth be told, but he was enthusiastic and not afraid to try). That's the difference, isn't it? During his campaigns, GW felt it important enough to reach out that he was willing to let his horrible accent out there for all to hear and the Mister Cool Messiah can't be bothered (image uber alles).
7.11.2008 4:36pm
Malthus:
I'd forgive Obama for his inability to speak a foreign tongue if he could do math or science. As it is, no recent president but Carter has been educated in math or science, only Breyer of the Supremes has distinguished himself in them, and only some five of our congressmen have done so either.

Both Angela Merkel and Margaret Thatcher excelled in math and science. Judged by our leadership, we Americans show up as major ignoramuses in math, science and foreign language.

Lawyers are the worst: almost universally underschooled in math and science, if dropped into a foreign country, they wouldn't be able to practice their profession and would likely starve but for help from the many foreigners who speak English.
7.11.2008 4:42pm
tgb1000 (mail):
Can anyone refer me to a list of George W. Bush's accomplishments before 2000? Apart from getting elected twice in a weak-governor state, I can't think of one.
7.11.2008 4:44pm
ejo:
tgb-bush isn't running for election. this is 2008, not 04 or 00. we heard plenty about how dumb bush back then despite whatever degrees he had from the ivys, all without wailing and gnashing about how insulting it was to even question the man. taking your point, if he wasn't very accomplished and you agree that BHO is even less accomplished, why would one then decide to vote for BHO?

malthus has a point-why is magna from a law school the pinnacle. why not neurosurgeons? physicists? engineers?
7.11.2008 4:51pm
JosephSlater (mail):
And as if I needed an especially, over-the-top example of Obama Derangement Syndrome in this very thread, why lookie there at inmypajamas's post.
7.11.2008 4:58pm
tgb1000 (mail):
My main point was that Republicans who say they won't vote for Obama because of his resume, when they gladly voted for Bush, are being disingenuous. Obama's point about the value of learning other languages is self-evident and hardly debatable, irrespective of whether he himself is fluent or barely passable in Spanish. That certain Republican bloggers try to turn that statement into a gotcha moment indicates to me that they have nothing positive to say about their own candidate, so they try to distract the swing voters with these inanities.
I'll agree with one thing; I'd love to see some candidates with science and technical backgrounds. But looking at the fields from both sides this year, that just wasn't likely. I doubt a law blog is the place to look for explanations for that.
7.11.2008 5:14pm
ejo:
well, if jimmy carter is the president of science and breyer is the justice of science, I am afraid I'll have to take a pass on technocrats. tgb-you misstate the context of BHO's statements. bilingual education (monolingual in practice) for immigrants has nothing to do with educating our children. there's the gotcha that is being pointed out-the lack of foreign language skills is just the icing.
7.11.2008 5:20pm
JosephSlater (mail):
That certain Republican bloggers try to turn that statement into a gotcha moment indicates to me that they have nothing positive to say about their own candidate,

This point bears repeating.
7.11.2008 5:26pm
ejo:
you don't even accurately state the context of the statement, something that bears repeating. the topic was bilingual education, a subject having nothing to do with the Obama statement. try to show a little honesty about what was being discussed.
7.11.2008 5:37pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
The real "gotcha moment" was the the crack about how embarrassing it is to Obama for Americans to go to Europe and speak only English. Unlike those sophisticated Europeans.

Just more bitter people clinging to their language, I guess.
7.11.2008 5:42pm
JosephSlater (mail):
ejo:

If you want to critique Obama's position on bi-lingual education, fine. But Jim Lindgren's original blog post didn't even mention that issue, and most of the comments have been some sort of weird and perhaps feigned indignation over the proposition that Obama somehow exaggerated his ability to speak Spanish -- a proposition that is not supported by Obama's actual words, as has been shown by other commenters.

As to him wanting other folks to speak foreign languages, well, to quote tgb100 again:

Obama's point about the value of learning other languages is self-evident and hardly debatable, irrespective of whether he himself is fluent or barely passable in Spanish.
7.11.2008 5:49pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Bob From Ohio:

As a fellow Ohio resident, good luck using that as a "gotcha" moment.
7.11.2008 5:49pm
JAL (mail):
Intelligence / intellect is one thing. Good judgment is something quite different, and in the real world, more useful (especially since the intelligence being identified is not in the practical areas of math or science).

I have been voting for more than 40 years and cannot recall ever hearing of or seeing so many indications of poor judgment in a person (BO) running for this level of office. Or of such patronizing put downs of those he wants to represent to the rest of the world, and to "lead."

There have been a truly amazing number of apologies, back tracks, refinings and the like that it is truly hard to keep up. All surrounded by the smoke and mirrors that Senator Obama has been misunderstood, or we weren't listening carefully enough (?? Clinton taught us as a nation to parse) or it was some staffer's fault (judgment issue again).

I may not agree with John McCain on a number of things, but I sure as heck don't have these kind of issues with his judgment, and his record which can be openly examined without charges of paranoia or racism.

What kind of a country are we that needs to elect someone who is telling us what we "must" do, that he isn't going to let us stay the same, that over and over we aren't good enough (on an individual or national level) and that he will see to it that we work our butts off -- to support his redemptive programs. Uuuhhmmm. We are adults, most of us voters, remember?

In a family therapy situation we would tell the receivers of this verbal abuse to draw the line or head out the door.

On the language deal -- it's the hypocrisy that's the problem. Some of you don't get that? "Do as I say, not as I do..." thing ya know? Not to mention the nanny nag again, and how embarrassed we all make him. Hint: Get a life Mr. Obama. I hope you don't do that to your kids behind closed doors, but it's such a consistent tone in the campaign, it makes me wonder....

You know most of my kids had some Spanish in elementary school 20 years ago. One of my kids took high school Spanish before Senator Obama came along. One of my kids studied in Sweden (in Swedish) and took Japanese at the same time. My kids would talk in lousy German around the house to each other so we couldn't understand them (because we sometimes used short Hindi phrases to communicate privately). Hell, I took 4 years of French 45 years ago which helped us find a place to stay once in Paris in 1970. I must be a bit bit rustier now. (All those opportunities I have ignored in those spiffy French restauraunts we haven't gone to....)

So do yourself and me a favor Mr. O: Stop lecturing us. But based on your record you can't help it. So I think, living in the South, I better go back to my religion and my gun (gotta buy one) and brush up on my French and Hindi and hope you don't win. I can't bear the thought of having to listen to this stuff for years. (And what IS a community organizer besides someone who gets by on grant money to do "good stuff" that in most cases has little impact,but makes a bunch of people feel good about themselves.)
7.11.2008 6:00pm
LM (mail):
James Lindgren:

Obama graduated with honors from the Harvard Law School.

High honors.
7.11.2008 6:42pm
fishbane (mail):
Which, of course, is one of the reasons why native English speakers' language ability in other languages is lower than non-native English speakers' abilities in English. Even if you do study another language, you will likely have much fewer opportunities to practice than people who learn as a second language the international language of commerce.

Bingo. 19 years ago, I was fully fluent in German - thinking in it to the point where it took me a couple of weeks to be fully comfortable with English again. I'm now shamed by how awkwardly I speak it - reading comprehension is still mostly intact, but my active vocabulary, fluidity and general confidence are all so low that it is really embarrassing.

Finding ways to get people out into the wider world would solve a lot of problems the US has, and would have a multiplier effect by fixing this one.
7.11.2008 6:48pm
JM Hanes:
"Does anyone know how fluent he is in his other three languages, especially Spanish?"

Well, for comparison's sake, I speak a "smattering" of dozens of languages I can't communicate in.
7.11.2008 7:21pm
Hoosier:
"Doesn't Bill Clinton speak pretty good German? I seem to remember him speaking auf Deutsch with Helmut Kohl one time."

Hey, finally one I can field (I know no Spanish). Nope. I've heard his attempts at German. Ganz schrecklich.

The Obamaniacs have jumped on this post as an attack upon Him. Perhaps it's because I'm a historian, but I am simply curious about these things. Pres. and Mrs. Hoover spoke Chinese. Have we had a president since then who was proficient--not to say fluent--in a second language? Some sources have FDR speaking reasonable German and French. But it is not at all clear that this went beyond social conversation.
7.11.2008 8:24pm
dr:
fwiw, i don't think the post reads in any way as an attack on obama. the attacks on obama contained within the comment thread do very much read as attacks on obama. but the initial post simply reads as a curious inquiry. but maybe i'm just being naive, like my lord and savior barack obama.
7.11.2008 9:27pm
Malthus:
Hoosier,

What is your authority for your statement that Hoover spoke Chinese? According to my best information, the last US President fluent in a foreign language was Teddy Roosevelt, who spoke fluent French, and the first US President to be circumcised was Jimmy Carter.
7.11.2008 9:29pm
dr:

What is your authority for your statement that Hoover spoke Chinese? According to my best information, the last US President fluent in a foreign language was Teddy Roosevelt, who spoke fluent French, and the first US President to be circumcised was Jimmy Carter.


In office?
7.11.2008 9:37pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Jimmy Carter speaks functional though imperfect Spanish, good enough that he is reported to field questions from reporters in Spanish and answer in understandable Spanish. However, I don't know if he spoke Spanish this well while he was President or if he has acquired or improved his Spanish since then.
7.11.2008 9:43pm
Leopold Stotch:
It's comment threads like this one that make me never want to read another comment thread at the VC. Ugh.
7.11.2008 11:18pm
fishbane (mail):
Well, for comparison's sake, I speak a "smattering" of dozens of languages I can't communicate in.

Neat. Do you now want to answer how you compare your smattering with McCain's of Korean, or the smatterings of Obama's?

Or, maybe, talk about the original question? Maybe even with an informed opinion? I know, I know, that may be too much to ask. I'm sorry.
7.11.2008 11:26pm
Daniel Wolf (mail):
Franklin Roosevelt attended Gymnasium in Germany for a time, so presumably was fluent in German.

Obama attended a state elementary school in Indonesia for several years, he was fluent enough to succeed in a school in which Indonesian was the only language and to play on the playground with monolingual Indonesian children who still remember him. His mother, step-father and sister were or are all fluent in Indonesian, so it was spoken in his home. While it is unlikely that he has retained enough Indonesian to use it in an adult and diplomatic environment, he did have the experience, at an early age, of living in an environment in which English was not the only language.

As to Bill Clinton's German, as someone who has lived in Germany for 19 years, I can report that it was rusty but competent and perfectly comprehensible.
7.12.2008 8:22am
Bleepless (mail):
Ich govoryu espanol, Lindgren-sama.
7.12.2008 2:00pm
Smokey:
James Lindgren:
"BTW, yesterday my daughter saw one of the Obama girls with her summer class group having a snack at a UC ice cream shop."
Wow, James! Can I have your autograph? I mean, if you can spare the time between bowing down and worshipping your Messiah.
Obama graduated with honors from the Harvard Law School.
LM:
High honors.
Well, he did say in his book that he uses cocaine...
7.12.2008 2:14pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Smokey:

Someone asked in the comments about Obama's daughters, so I added that tidbit.
7.12.2008 7:34pm
James Lindgren (mail):
I have to say that it is sad to see such unthoughtful responses from some of the commenters on both sides of the political spectrum.

Not every post about Barack Obama or John McCain is a veiled form of "You should vote for (or against) this guy because . . . ."

I want to know how well Obama speaks Spanish. Apparently no one commenting on this thread knows . . . .

Jim Lindgren
7.12.2008 7:37pm