Willie Don: good copy, but enough already

July 20, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

William Donald Schaefer has said several times that he intends to endorse the Democratic nominee for governor. What does Martin O'Malley do with that? Meet Schaefer in an alley near City Hall at midnight and accept his endorsement when no one is looking? Take it by e-mail? Have his father-in-law, Joe Curran, stop by and pick it up?

I guess there will be a ceremony of some kind, or a press conference where Don Donaldo announces his support for O'Malley. It has all the makings of great political theater - and demolition derby.

I can just hear Schaefer now: "I'm here today to announce my support for what's his name, the Irish banjo player. Have you seen his wife? What a babe. They're all Irish, these people ... the Currans, the O'Malleys. Nice thing about the Irish - they spoke English before they got here."

Of course, with Schaefer, you don't have to make it up.

He's provided plenty of material - people with AIDS are bad, people who don't speak English are a nuisance, young women are "little girls" to be ogled at public hearings - and all bringing him the attention he craves and, from a certain constituency, enough atta-boys and you-tell-'ems to keep him going and even embolden him.

I wasn't going to bother with Schaefer again. It's too easy and it's too hard.

It's too easy because he's doing a pretty good job of self-destruction without my help. (WDS stands for two things - William Donald Schaefer and Weapon of Destruction, Self.)

It's too hard because he's 84 years old and put forth long, good service to the people of Baltimore and Maryland, but he keeps saying and doing things that are embarrassing, and it's like watching a beloved uncle sputter and become ridiculous.

Schaefer should have apologized to the Korean-Americans who came to see him the other day. It wouldn't have been an act of political correctness. It simply would have been the decent thing to do, to mend a small cut before it became a major tear.

"I'm sorry," he could have said. "I should have made a distinction between the nutty North Koreans who fire missiles at us and the many South Koreans who have immigrated to the United States and made this country a better place. And it was inappropriate of me to drop this into one of my narrow-minded and gratuitous cracks about immigrants."

But, no.

Schaefer, emboldened by atta-boys and you-tell-'ems, refused to apologize and, according to The Washington Post, referred to the well-meaning and so-polite-it-hurts David Han, president of the Korean Society of Maryland, as "that little fellow" and a "zero."

Despite this, Han and other Korean-Americans pledged to keep talking with Schaefer in hopes of making him understand how what he said during his most recent diatribe about immigrants is hurtful to thousands of families who trace their roots back to South Korea.

Han and his colleagues were doing the gracious thing - offering an old man and legendary politician a way to save face.

Why bother?

Trying to change - or understand - Schaefer is a waste of time.

This man is confused, and confusing.

For instance, what he has said about immigrants has been strikingly contradictory.

In 2004, he complained that he could not understand the employee at a fast-food restaurant in Anne Arundel County who took his order.

"I don't want to adjust to another language," Schaefer griped. "This is the United States. They should adjust to us."

All of us have had some experience with people who speak little or no English, but we somehow muddle through with an understanding that this is the way of America, a fact of life in a nation built by immigrants. It's at worst a minor inconvenience.

I'm sure even Schaefer's ancestors struggled with the new language once upon a time. Mine certainly did, and just a generation ago.

Most of us have this understanding - have not forgotten the immigrant struggle - and it's just no big deal.

But here was the comptroller of the state of Maryland - a former mayor of Baltimore and governor of the state - using time during a state Board of Public Works meeting to whine about it, as if broken English from the lips of a foreign-born worker in America's service economy was some new and serious problem, a crisis in the culture.

No doubt, immigrants should learn to speak English, and no doubt, most of them do exactly that.

Schaefer seemed to be saying that they should hurry up about it.

OK.

Two years later, and what does Schaefer say?

During his most recent outburst, he seemed to be saying that government should not foot the bill for English language classes for immigrants, or particularly the K-through-12 children of immigrants, many of whom might have been born in this country and therefore are citizens of this country.

So, maybe you're confused.

Does Schaefer think it's bad that immigrants speak English poorly or not at all, or that they do not learn the language fast enough?

Or does he think it's bad that we teach them how to speak English?

As I said, trying to figure this man out is a waste of time.

And it's time to move on.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Hear Dan Rodricks every Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on WBAL Radio (1090 AM) and read his blog at baltimoresun.com/rodricks.

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