Self-parody watch

SELF-PARODY WATCH…. During a visit with Saudi King Abdullah today, President Obama briefly responded to praise by saying, “Shukran,” which is “thank you” in Arabic. It was only a matter of time before we saw a post like this one from Michael Goldfarb. The headline readers, “Does Obama Speak Arabic?”

Obama has said before that he speaks “barely passable Spanish” and “a smattering of Swahili,” as well as some Bahasa from his youth in Indonesia. But Obama has at other times denied speaking a foreign language, saying in July of last year, “I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing!” And even today, Michelle Obama is delivering the commencement address at Washington Math, Science, Technology Public Charter School, where Mark Knoller reports that she implored graduates to learn a language, and that both she and the president “regret they never learned another language.”

It seems there is some legitimate confusion on just what languages Obama speaks, and as far as Arabic, the only real hint has came from Nick Kristof, who heard Obama recite the Muslim call to prayer in Arabic and with a “first-rate accent” back in 2007. With even the White House now smearing Obama as a Muslim, one wonders if the president hasn’t been concealing some greater fluency with the language of the Koran.

If Goldfarb was kidding, it wasn’t apparent in his post. With his work, it’s sometimes hard to tell.

Look, the president said one word in Arabic. It may very well be the word someone from the State Department told him to say during the trip en route to the Middle East. That Obama can thank his host in his host’s language is not evidence that the president has been “concealing some greater fluency with the language of the Koran.” That’s absurd.

I, for example, took some Spanish classes growing up in Miami, and I know how to say, “Gracias.” It does not mean I “speak” Spanish. Likewise, I don’t speak French, but I can say, “Merci.” I don’t speak German, but I know to say “Danke” when the occasion arises.

In other words, it’s perfectly reasonable for someone to know how to say “thank you” in multiple tongues and still be telling the truth about not knowing foreign languages.

If Goldfarb is “confused” about this, I’m afraid there’s not much we can do for him.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.