The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, February 09, 2004  

JFK, the Berliner, and My Blog

Be advised: The whole John F. Kennedy “Ich bin ein Berliner” thing carries “urban legend” connotations.

I knew that before I posted my February 7 piece “Speaking, or not, Spanish -- and English,” and I’m sorry that some readers interpreted my post as an authoritative statement about that event.

Actually, I merely was employing the device to make a pair of more important points that apparently flew right over the heads of readers who corresponded with me after the fact, including a few fellow bloggers, against whom I assure you I hold no grudges because their remarks were astute, and as always, much appreciated.

First off: Frankly, is it really up to me, an obscure blogger, to correct 40 years of misunderstanding and misapprehension, despite the validity of the greater message? I was just trying to make some points on tangentially related subjects.

Second, what the correspondents failed to realize, to a man and woman, was that my reference to “Ich bin ein Berliner” was, in retrospect, a mistake, but for reasons they remain blissfully unaware. You see, by referring to that 40-years-ago incident, I invited comparisons between apples and oranges.

President Kennedy, while in Berlin, was speaking to Germans (the “apples”), not German-Americans (the “oranges”), and the primary point of my post, my humble addendum to the wise observations of Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Tanya Barrientos, was that American politicians who think they are courting votes by downspeaking to one ethnic group or another (“oranges,” again), can do themselves a disservice. And if not careful, careful in a way that few politicians can understand, they are insulting the very audience they seek to cultivate. (Again, “oranges.”)

Yes, and here I’m moving from the domestic to the foreign, I know, I fully agree, it would be wonderful if an American president could travel overseas and speak fluently the language of one, two, three, five, or seven of the countries he visits.

Sorry, people, it’s never going to happen, and I have discussed this matter in the past. (Teresa Heinz Kerry, who in addition to her ability to speak “volatile” English, also is fluent in Portuguese, French, Spanish, and Italian, will take us all a long way toward that noble, yet ultimately unattainable, goal.)

Completely lost in all of this was my second point, made in the addendum -- “Who reads footnotes?” Ann Coulter, please call your office. -- to my February 7 post in which I described having been characterized at a job interview 17 years ago as a “greasy daigo wop” (my words) by a mid-tier Washington-based interest group. For that oversight, that neglect on my critics’ part, I have no explanation whatsoever.

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