WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that "The Star-Spangled Banner" should be sung in English and that the national anthem would not hold the same value when sung in Spanish.
"I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English," Bush said in response to a question at a Rose Garden news conference. "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."
The president's remarks come as a Spanish-language pop version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" is being circulated to Spanish-language radio stations, with proceeds from the single "Nuestro Himno" supporting national marches for immigration reform that could lead to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States.
Bush, a Republican who has found some success in courting the traditionally Democratic Hispanic vote in Texas and in two presidential campaigns, likes to pepper his speeches with an occasional Spanish word or phrase. But as he struggles with low approval ratings, he has found firm political ground with his position on the anthem, experts on the Hispanic vote in the U.S. say.
"National anthems are symbols of a culture and symbols of what the majority of the country believes in," said Sergio Bendixen, a pollster who conducts surveys of Hispanic voters. Bush's judgment on the national anthem "is a common-sense statement. ... He is understanding of the culture enough to understand that this won't offend anyone."
Guillermo Meneses, spokesman for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
"You wouldn't sing the national anthem of another country in a different language," Meneses said. "You wouldn't be singing the Mexican national anthem in English.
"We should make every attempt to learn the English language," Meneses added. "That is not to say that we don't maintain our cultural heritage. I happen to be fully bilingual, and I'm going to do my darnedest to make sure my children learn both English and Spanish."
At the same time, the president is already having the same problems among Hispanic voters that he is having generally, with his job approval at record lows in new polls this week.
As governor of Texas, Bush found strong support among Hispanic voters, and he boosted his share of the Hispanic vote from 35 percent to 40 percent between the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.
But Bendixen, who found that the president enjoyed a favorable rating of 72 percent among all Hispanic voters surveyed at re-election, said Bush's personal favorable rating had slid to 25 percent in his latest national survey, conducted in March.
Mark Silva writes for the Chicago Tribune.