Oh, say can you care?

The flap over a Spanish-language national anthem.

Published May 2, 2006 4:10PM (EDT)

We don't use the word "stupid" lightly, especially when describing a view held by the president of the United States and 69 percent of the American public. But really, do people seriously have their undies in a wad over the existence of a Spanish-language version of the national anthem?

Yes, we understand that there are politics involved here. We know that concerns over the Spanish-language version of the anthem are tied up in Americans' complicated feelings about immigration reform. But isn't it possible to focus on the one without getting all worked up about the other?

Apparently not. Wyclef Jean and a handful of other performers released "Nuestro Himno" in time for Monday's immigration protests, and the way people have reacted, you'd think they'd jacked up gas prices or screwed the pooch on the economy or started a war for no reason or something. War Room readers should know by now that we've got an opinion on just about everything. But we honestly can't imagine caring if people want to sing the national anthem in Spanish, Swahili, pig Latin or pirate talk.

We're pretty much alone on this one. Gallup asked Americans over the weekend whether they think it's "appropriate for people to sing the U.S. National Anthem in Spanish," and more than two-thirds of them said no. Next question: When a Spanish-speaking citizen looks up at the American flag, is it "appropriate" for him to think of the word "bandera"? And a follow-up: If all this isn't "appropriate," just what, exactly, are we supposed to do about it?

Wait, don't answer that, because Sen. Lamar Alexander already has. Alexander introduced a resolution Monday affirming that the national anthem and other statements of national unity should be sung or recited only in English. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and eight other Republicans have already signed on as cosponsors.

In a statement, Alexander said that the Washington Post reported Friday that the national anthem has "never before ... been rendered in another language." That's not exactly what the Post said -- the Post said that "musicologists" could not "name another foreign-language version" -- and it's not exactly the truth, either. As the Associated Press notes, a State Department Web site currently offers four different Spanish-language versions of the national anthem as well as French and Arabic versions of the U.S Constitution, the Pledge of Allegiance and other texts.

To her credit, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seems to get it: "I've heard the national anthem done in rap versions, country versions, classical versions," she said over the weekend. "The individualization of the American national anthem is quite under way."

Her boss? Not so much. The president was asked the other day whether he thinks the national anthem "will hold the same value" if it's sung in Spanish rather than English. "No I don't," he said, "because I think the National Anthem ought to be sung in English. And I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English, and they ought to learn to sing the National Anthem in English."

We're all for learning English, but we're big on history, too. Think Progress has some the president might want to remember. During the 2000 campaign, a candidate eager to court the Hispanic vote was sometimes heard to sing the national anthem in Spanish at campaign events.

Not that we'd care, but his name was George W. Bush.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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George W. Bush Immigration Lamar Alexander R-tenn.