Given a chance to revisit a year-old controversy ignited by his labeling multiculturalism as "crap," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that he regretted his choice of words but "absolutely" supports the sentiment.
"I would use a more socially acceptable but stronger term," Ehrlich (R) said when asked about the matter during an appearance at Towson University. "A multicultural society is doomed to failure. . . . The goal is assimilation; it's not separation."
Ehrlich's comments last year, made during a radio interview, came after an incident in which Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D) publicly complained about a Spanish-speaking McDonald's clerk. The governor's remarks drew sharp criticism from Latino, black and Native American leaders, who said Ehrlich had disparaged their cultural contributions. The governor, for his part, said he was speaking out against a "politically correct movement against assimilation."
Richard E. Vatz, the professor who invited Ehrlich to address his class yesterday, said use of the word "crap" had left the governor's position open to misunderstanding and mischaracterization.
"I actually think that your position is the majority position," said Vatz, a self-described conservative who is generally sympathetic to the governor's views.
Ehrlich said he believes in celebrating "ethnic pride," noting that his ancestors had come from Germany. But he said the United States is "a single culture" and should be "a melting pot."
Ehrlich noted that his relatives "learned English real fast" after arriving from Germany. He said that his son Drew is learning Spanish and French but that it was important for him to learn English first.
Ehrlich said last year's controversy arose, in part, because most members of the news media did not share his views.
He has appeared regularly before the Towson University class, which teaches the art of persuasion, since becoming governor in 2003. Much of yesterday's session focused on what he suggested were episodes of bias or negligence in reporting.
Ehrlich said he does not read daily newspapers that cover his administration, relying instead on aides to keep him abreast of what is being written.
"I deal with the here and now," he said.