Jon Huntsman Lost the One Thing He Had Going for Him
And that would be his sense of humor.
In a recent Slate piece, author Geoffrey Sant calls Huntsman's Chinese language skills into question.
Media reports on the Republican candidates simply assert as a fact that Huntsman is “fluent in Mandarin”...Huntsman’s ads emphasize that he is “Fluent in Mandarin Chinese,” and his website declares (in its Interactive Timeline) that he became “fluent in Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Hokkien” in 1980.
But is Jon Huntsman really fluent in Chinese?
The answer seems to be no.
As far as I'm concerned, fluency in Chinese is not one of the essential qualities I look for in a prospective presidential candidate. Let's just say knowing a foreign language doesn't harm a candidate, but it doesn't really help either. One thing that certainly does harm a candidate's credibility, however, is claiming fluency and then proving to be more-or-less inarticulate right on national television.
When asked on the Colbert Report to speak Chinese, Huntsman spoke one sentence and then “translated” his words as “I just said you ought to consider being my running mate for vice president.” The studio audience roared in approval. Yet in reality, Huntsman’s mangled Chinese would translate as: “I really want you to do my vice-America president.”
On Piers Morgan Tonight, Piers Morgan asked Huntsman to speak in Mandarin, and then immediately proclaimed what he heard as “spectacularly good” despite not understanding any of it. (As Huntsman himself responded, “How do you know?”)
A fair translation of Huntsman’s Chinese response to Piers Morgan would be: “Whatever I say, you don’t, you won’t know that much, you will not be so able to understand. I am Mr. Jon Huntsman. I want to be the up-to-next American president.”
Huntsman himself “translated” the first sentence of this as “Whatever I say, you’ll have no idea what it is.” This isn’t a particularly complicated sentence, yet Huntsman struggled to express it, making three halting attempts and never quite getting it right. His attempt to say “next” president (in Chinese, xia-yi-jie) became the strange xia-lai-de. (I could understand Huntsman only because I knew what he was going to say, but none of the Beijing individuals I checked with could understand this sentence even on repeated listens.)
Three possibilities here that I can see: 1) Jon Huntsman doesn't know Chinese well enough to know that he's botching it up (i.e. Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns"); 2) Huntsman is a liar and figures he can get away with it because no one pays attention to him; 3) the author of the Slate hit-piece knows even less about Mandarin than does Huntsman.