"We should not have a multicultural society."
Jeb Bush made the comment on Tuesday in response to a question from an Iowa woman working with refugees and immigrants living in the Hawkeye State. She wanted to know how the Republican presidential candidate would help people resettling in the United States integrate into society.
"America is so much better than every other county because of the values that people share -- it defines our national identity. Not race or ethnicity, not where you come from," he told her. "When you create pockets of isolation -- and in some cases the assimilation process is retarded because it's slowed down -- it's wrong. It limits peoples' aspirations."
The Democratic-leaning American Bridge group circulated video of Bush answering the question shortly after his comments, suggesting in an e-mail that the candidate, who is lagging in recent public opinion polls, is "tacking hard to the right" and beginning to sound like Donald Trump and Ben Carson, two GOP presidential candidates who've made controversial comments in recent days about Muslims and other minorities.
Sure, the comments may sound odd coming from Bush, a resident of Miami -- one of the nation's most diverse cities -- who speaks fluent Spanish, is married to a Mexican-born woman and on Monday heralded the biculturalism of his own family to a group of Hispanic business leaders.
But on Tuesday in Iowa, Bush was merely expressing a long-held belief that immigrants and refugees need to assimilate and that countries permitting "multiculturalism" can suffer from a lack of unity among people. When he discusses the subject, he's adhering to the strict definition of the words "assimilation" and "multiculturalism."
Assimilation: The process of adapting or adjusting to the culture of a group or nation, or the state of being so adapted.
Multiculturalism: The preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society, as a state or nation.
In his 2013 book, "Immigration Wars," Bush wrote that "Assimilation into the American identity -- the values on which our nation is based and the constitution mechanisms designed to perpetuate them -- ultimately is far more important yet a much more difficult task. In order to become citizens, immigrants must demonstrate fluency in English and pass an examination on basic American civics and history."
Later, he wrote that "We must ensure that the immigrants who come do so for the right reasons -- and once they are here, that they assimilate into American culture and heed American values. But we must also recognize that throughout our history, immigrants indeed have assimilated and have strengthened our nation in every imaginable way. That is the type of immigration we need in America's third century."
Bush aides noted that some European leaders have made similar comments about multiculturalism, especially as large waves of migrants have poured into the continent from Africa and the Middle East in recent years.
In 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a sharply worded speech denouncing his country's "hands-off tolerance" that allowed immigrant groups "to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream."
"We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong,” he said of immigrant groups, dominated by Muslims in his country, according to an account of the speech by the New York Times.
Cameron added that "We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values. So when a white person holds objectionable views — racism, for example — we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy have made similar comments -- but never as explicitly as Cameron.
Arguably, Bush made his point more effectively -- certainly more artfully -- in a speech on Monday to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention in Houston.
"If we embrace a set of shared values, then it shouldn't matter if you have a 'z' at the end of their name, or your accent might be different," he said. "What matters is that we embrace a set of shared values and that we have a right-to-rise society."