Rudy Giuliani had dinner Monday night in Philadelphia. On the menu: cheesesteak, naturally -- with a side of immigration policy. Hizzonor stopped by Geno's Steak, a South Philly institution that earned notoriety of a different sort in 2006, when owner Joey Vento posted signs at the cashier's window that read:
This is America
When Ordering Please "Speak English"
Vento put up the notices (as the AP put it) "because of concerns over immigration reform and the increasing number of people who could not order in English." (Never mind that Vento himself can't apparently write proper English; see the quotation marks around "Speak English.") Vento further told the AP that nobody had ever been turned away for not talking the American talk, notwithstanding another sign directly below declaring that "Management Reserves the Right to Refuse Service."
Such incendiary but unrealized rhetoric serves the former mayor's ambivalent stand on immigration especially well. Giuliani, who used the visit to emphasize his newly acquired belief that immigrants should learn English as a condition for citizenship, was making a very nuanced statement, calculated to appeal to both sides in the debate. On the one hand, who would object to the notion of learning English as a precondition for staying? On the other hand, Vento's cri de coeur ought to register with the base: it evokes, without quite articulating, the subterranean distaste for immigrants' foreign-ness that underpins much of the nativist sentiment.
Nothing like playing both sides of the fence.