FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
Two weeks ago, the NAACP held its annual convention in Detroit. Only Democratic presidential candidates showed up, but the Republican stage looked very different. Only one man stood among the empty podiums - Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado. Tancredo is also the first and only Republican to accept our invitation to share his vision for America with you, the NEWS & NOTES listeners. He is opposed to renewing the Voting Rights Act. He has called for an end to the Congressional Black Caucus.
So I started off with this simple question: Why in the world would he go to an NAACP forum?
Representative TOM TANCREDO (Republican, Colorado): I went because I was asked.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rep. TANCREDO: And I wanted to go because there is an issue that I care about greatly - and I speak of that often - and it is the impact of illegal immigration in the country. People who are coming here as illegal immigrants and taking the jobs that, quote, "No American wants or will do," unquote, I - well, I think, that's first of all, a fallacy, sort of an insult to even say something like that.
But I think that when people do come here illegally - low-skilled, low-wage workers - they take a lot of jobs that would be taken by people who are here, who are working at the lowest rung of the economic ladder and who are having a hard time working their way out of poverty because wage rates stay depressed. And I just felt that it was something - an issue that we have that I could find some resonation there. And there was - it was there. They certainly did. They -well, they gave me a standing ovation when I came in, but I assume that that was just simply because I showed up.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Well, you know…
Rep. TANCREDO: One, because I showed up and the other one was because I was leaving, I'm not so sure. But they gave me standing ovation. But there were a lot of things that we agreed upon and I was very pleased by it. It is true that within the African-American community, you cannot say it's monolithic about this issue. There are different points of view. And you've got a very political aspect of this. To a lot of folks who are in the Democratic Party, they look at massive immigration as a source of votes, potential and real votes. I mean, some of the - as you know, there's a lot of voter fraud that goes on.
And that was another thing that - by the way, we did talk about - was voter fraud, but there's also the need to act so that we can make sure people have their votes counted. I know that technology has gotten us to the point where we should be totally trusting of all electronic devices, but I personally would like to have a paper backup for - especially the things as important as a vote. And there were certainly a good response from them on that.
CHIDEYA: Well, let me jump in here for a second.
Rep. TANCREDO: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: You mentioned voter fraud. You mentioned also wanting to make sure that every vote is counted, but you voted against the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, and that was one of these things where a flood of congresspeople from both sides of the aisle really did vote for it. It's near and dear to the hearts of African-Americans, why did you vote against the renewal of the act?
Rep. TANCREDO: Well, there are a couple of provisions that I thought were just, that I could not compromise on. And one was the mandation of the continuation of bilingual ballots. Also the construction of districts based on racial lines. I have to tell you, I find that that in and of itself is sort of - I mean, there was time, I think, in America when, you know, we had to do some extraordinary things in order to make sure that people got their vote counted. And I think to a large extent, we have dealt with it. There are still pockets of it that we have to be concerned about it.
But I don't believe it's good for America to construct congressional districts on racial lines. I don't think it's good to have a thing called the black caucus or a Hispanic caucus. I certainly would not want a thing called the white caucus. I constantly find myself being confronted by people who suggest that my motives are other than pure when it comes to this issue of immigration.
And I tell you, from the bottom of my heart, that what worries me the most is the fact that what is happening to us is that we are vulcanizing and separating America rather than finding things where we have common interests and coming together, especially, of course, the English language being a very important part of that.
CHIDEYA: Before I ask you, congressman, about the English language, which is a big part of how you operate in the political world, I want to go into a little family history. Your grandparents emigrated from Italy. I presume - and correct me if I'm wrong - that they continued to speak Italian once they came, and that those very linguistic issues just out of pure necessity, as people were learning the English language, you had Italian neighborhoods and Polish neighborhoods and Irish neighborhoods. I grew up in Baltimore and in addition to having black and white, you had every ethnicity represented. How does that differ from what you're talking about today?
Rep. TANCREDO: My grandparents were intent upon doing one thing and it was a big issue with them. Even I remember, distinctly, I remember so clearly them saying to my parents, they were who - they would not let speak Italian, by the way. Even when, you know, there was - here is our tradition on every Sunday. I pick them up, go to mass, take a ride and go to the Dairy Queen. We end up there about 2:00 in the afternoon when - by the time we got there my grandparents, my mom's parents, were also almost in an argument in the back of the car. And my grandfather would lapse into Italian and my grandmother would yell at him - speak American, darn it.
And she meant - and that they used to about becoming quote, "Americanized." Yes, they came in to Italian ghettos, Polish ghettos, Jewish ghettos. But what happened at that time is that there was tremendous amount of pressure to become Americans and not just in word, but in thought and in your loyalty. They meant to cut the ties that connected them to the past and adopt the new ones.
CHIDEYA: What does American - sorry to interrupt you.
Rep. TANCREDO: That's all right.
CHIDEYA: When you say American, what does American mean to you?
Rep. TANCREDO: It means someone who had - whose first loyalty is to this country, and they have a desire to learn the language of the country. You know, in Webster's dictionary, a nation is defined as a place on the planet where people speak the same language. Language is important because it is the glue that holds us together because we come from so many diverse backgrounds. You need something that connects us together.
CHIDEYA: Well, Congressman Tancredo, you have said in Iowa - you've been campaigning nonstop - that you want an end to multiculturalism.
I want to take us back to a moment in American history where you had vibrant Japanese American communities. They ended up being interned because there was this presumption that because they were in their own communities that they were anti-American, and yet there were many valiant people who served in the U.S. Army, using their skills speaking Japanese to actually serve America. Do you think in a certain way that when you talk about the end of multiculturalism, you could be undercutting things like our war on terror?
Rep. TANCREDO: I think it's just the opposite. And here is why. Lao-Tzu is often, you know, quoted because he was a brilliant tactician and philosopher and he talked about the fact that what you need to confront an enemy and to be successful and he said there are two things really that are important.
One is to know exactly who the enemy is. And our case, I think we still wrestle with that. I mean, we are trying to figure out whether we're really dealing with quote, "terrorists," or radical Islam. And I think it's the latter.
On the other hand, you have to know who you are, he says. And I agree that we have to know who we are as a society. What we does Western civilization represent? Are there ideas and ideals that we all hold in common?
And so I think that it is enormously important for us all to connect to the concept of America, the principles of Western civilization in order to be successful in this war with radical Islam because that is the entity, I think, with which we are at war, not terrorism, which is a tactic. You can't be at war with terrorism. It's a tactic. It's not the thing you go to war with. So I just think both of those things are very important to know, who's the enemy and who you are.
CHIDEYA: You referenced radical Islam, one what is it to you and two, how do you fight it?
Rep. TANCREDO: What is - it's a portion of the Muslim population in the world that believes in the extension of the caliphate throughout the world and the imposition of Sharia law, and will go to whatever extremes are necessary in order to bring that about. It is certainly not the majority - thank God - of the Muslim population in this world, but it is a significant enough portion so as to make it a very dangerous thing when you combine it with the technology that we, today, have that allows relatively few people to do some very bad things. So you combat it.
Well, there's a whole slug(ph) of ways you have to do it. One will be the force of arms periodically. I happen to not agree, by the way, with our position in Iraq. I did not support the surge. I hope it works because we're there, but I do not support it. I believe that we have to disengage in Iraq. I believe that we cannot withdraw from the region entirely, but we have to use diplomatic, economic, sometimes the use of force but more often than not force of ideas.
CHIDEYA: Congressman, you frame this around of the Iraq war and to bring it back home, you have been known for breaking ranks with your party. In fact, presidential adviser Karl Rove reportedly told you to, quote, "never darken the door of the White House again."
Rep. TANCREDO: Yes, he did. In fact, he used those exact words.
Rep. TANCREDO: I remember it distinctly.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Well, have you had a chance to discuss your stance on the war with the President? If you haven't, what would you tell him? Tell us what you would've told him.
Rep. TANCREDO: I would tell him that we cannot be the policemen in Iraq that the United States military is constructed for a single purpose and that is to win the war. It has done it. It performed admirably. We cannot be a police force especially in a country like Iraq - a different culture, language and all the rest that make it very difficult to be the cop on the beat.
The Iraqis, you tell me, have 120,000 people who have in - who are now capable? This is the number of people in the army that they claimed to be capable of combat duty? Good. I want them patrolling Baghdad. I want them in the Humvees that are driving up and down those streets. And I want American soldiers out of there. And I will tell you another thing, Mr. President. I do not want to send one more American soldier into harm's way, being hampered by these rules of engagement, written by some lawyer some place and in order to protect that higher echelon in the military and not the guy or the gal that is standing out there being shot at. I am furious with these rules of engagement. I would say, Mr. President, never send another American into harm's way while you simultaneously tie their hands. So you know, we'd have quite a conversation, which is maybe one reason why I never get invited.
CHIDEYA: On that note, Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.
Rep. TANCREDO: It's been a pleasure.
CHIDEYA: Republican Congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo. To tell us what you thought of the interview and of the Congressman's vision for America, go to our blog, nprnewsandviews.org.
In the weeks ahead, we hope to bring you the rest of the current presidential candidates.
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