Memphis Commercial Appeal - Bart Sullivan
WASHINGTON -- The official Web page of the White House has its own Spanish language version. Flip through the FM radio dial and every third station seems to be broadcasting in Spanish. The pop star Shakira is one of many artists producing the same songs in Spanish and English versions.
The reality is that much of America has become bilingual.
But last week's unveiling of "Nuestro Himno," a Spanish-language version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," has struck a raw nerve in Washington and across a country suddenly obsessed with immigration policy.
It was in that context that Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., took to the Senate floor Monday to ask his colleagues to pass a resolution that "songs that symbolize the unity of the nation... should be recited or sung in English, the common language of the United States." It was expected to pass later this week.
"Will translating our anthem into multiple languages also erode our sense of having a common language that allows us to speak with one another as one nation?" Alexander wondered aloud in his floor speech.
President Bush had already beaten Alexander to the rhetorical punch on Friday when he said the national anthem should be sung in English and that immigrants should learn English before becoming American citizens, already a requirement.
The emotional issue has opened a floodgate of commentary on talk radio and cable television, where "Nuestro Himno" (Our Anthem) is being referred to as the Illegal Alien Anthem. Advocates of the song say it is a paean to national unity.
But the anthem-in-English is a no-brainer on the campaign trail, as the candidates running for Tennessee's open Senate seat pledged an undying devotion to the song penned by Francis Scott Key as he watched the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1814.
"Our anthem describes more than ideas -- it details what Francis Scott Key saw on a night in our history when our very freedom hung in the balance," said U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn. "The words, the phrases, the expressions, they all count for something irreplaceable."
Republican Van Hilleary has been mixing references to the song into his stump speech, affirming that he has "always been of the belief that the national anthem should be sung in English," said spokesman Jennifer Coxe.
Republican Ed Bryant's spokesman, Andrew Shulman, said that the former congressman supports Alexander's resolution, just as he has supported English being the official language of the federal government, and as he has condemned flag desecration.
"I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Alexander that the English language unites us as a country and that the national anthem should be sung in English," said Republican Bob Corker.