Latina/os and Party Politics in the California Campaign against Bilingual Education: A Case Study in Argument from Transcendence

By Cisneros, J. David | Argumentation and Advocacy, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Latina/os and Party Politics in the California Campaign against Bilingual Education: A Case Study in Argument from Transcendence


Cisneros, J. David, Argumentation and Advocacy


In the bourgeois body politic, even politicians damn an opponent's motive by calling it political; and professional partisans like to advocate their measures as transcending factional antithesis. Candidates for office say, in effect: "Vote for our faction, which is more able to mediate between the factions."

Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History

Argument from transcendence is an elusive but essential form of persuasion (Jasinski, 2001). In simple terms, the argument from transcendence is a perspectival shift that reframes, redraws, or restructures "dialectical oppositions" (Parson, 1993, p. 390) through a "higher synthesis" (Burke, 1959, p. 80). When controversy persists in the public sphere about conflicting values or courses of action, transcendence can induce assent by "redefining the public interest for a particular set of circumstances, problems, or audiences" (Brummett, 1982, p. 552). As the quotation by Burke in the epigraph illustrates, arguments from transcendence especially take shape in partisan political campaigns (Brummett, 1981; Burkholder, 1989). From campaign speeches (Daughton, 1993; Parson, 1993) to political debates (Benoit, Blaney, & Pier, 1998; Benoit & Brazeal, 2002) to legislative campaigns (Brummett, N; Goldzwig, 2003), transcendent appeal is of particular importance to argument scholars because it often forms an integral component of political argument. To this end, this essay examines argument from transcendence in political campaigns concerning the linguistic and cultural assimilation of Latina/os.

Because of the well-documented growth of Latina/o immigrants and citizens in the United States (Fry, 2008; U.S. Census Bureau, 2007), migration and multiculturalism persist as sites of dialectical public debate. On the one hand, we have seen renewed arguments for linguistic and cultural unity (e.g., Schlesinger, 1998). For example, a number of conservative, anti-immigrant, and assimilationist campaigns on the state and national level have succeeded to varying degrees in making English the "official" language of the country (Flores, 2000; Piatt, 1990; Schildkraut, 2005; Schmid, 2001; Schmidt, 1997). On the other hand, the growth of the Latina/o population has fueled an increased effort to woo the Latina/o "sleeping giant" (Ball, 2008, [paragraph] 8; de la Garza & DeSipio, 1992; 1996; 1999; 2005; Shapiro, 2005). Local, state, and national politicians--particularly Republicans (Connaughton & Jarvis, 2004b; Len-Rios, 2002; Marbut, 2005)--have intensified their attempts to mobilize Latina/o voters, often through the use of the Spanish language and through identification with Latina/o values (Connaughton &Jarvis, 2004a; Demo, 2006, Jarvis & Connanghton, 2005). These apparently "dialectical" types of campaigns-campaigns for nativist, anti-immigrant policies and attempts to court Latina/o and immigrant support-present the forging ground of argument from transcendence (Parson, 1993, p. 390).

One such assimilationist policy, targeted in part at Latina/os and immigrants, meriting further attention is California Proposition 227, which banned bilingual education in California. The 1998 Republican campaign for Proposition 227, entitled "English for the Children," was spearheaded by aspiring Republican politician Ron Unz. Heretofore, scholars have studied Proposition 227 through three main foci: its legislative implications (Cline, Necochea, & Rios, 2004; Flores & Murillo, 2001), its educational effects (Garcia & CurryRodriguez, 2000; Mora, 2002; Revilla & Asato, 2002), and the context of the campaign for 227 (Crawford, 1999, 2000; Stritikus, 2002). Building on this research, this essay focuses on the arguments of "Bilingualism vs. Bilingual Education" (Unz, 1997)--a widely-circulated editorial written by Ron Unz and first printed in the LosAngeles Times on October 19, 1997--to explain how the campaign for Proposition 227 used argument from transcendence to (attempt to) appeal to both Anglo and Latina/o voters. …

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