Sunday, December 27, 2015

Political Correctness

A number of leading Republican candidates for President have decried "political correctness." Why?

Ben Carson frequently attacks "political correctness." In a recent mailing we received from his campaign, he listed a number of reasons that we should vote for him for President. The first was that he was not a career politician; the second was that he is not "politically correct." Kevin Drum writes that Carson "incessantly" talks about "political correctness" because "it is the core of his worldview." According to Drum, Carson says that political correctness is a tool used by liberals to prevent conservatives from realizing how tyrannical their government is; that it keeps conservatives from comparing their present government to Nazi Germany and their present condition to slavery. Carson has stated: "Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this country since slavery." "We live in a Gestapo age." Amber Phillips quotes a dozen other Hitler comparisons by Carson while Sam Stein has compiled videos of Carson comparing both Obamacare and abortion to slavery.

But Carson may have another reason for opposing political correctness. Carson has a history of making highly offensive jokes. He makes Holocaust jokes. Tommy Christopher of Mediate shows Carson saying, "The fashion industry makes young women think they're supposed to be so skinny they look like they escaped from Auschwitz." He makes age jokes. Describing how futile it is to operate on old people, he said, "With an old geezer, you spend all that time operating and five years later they die of something else." Here's a video of Carson "apologizing" for these and other "politically incorrect" statements. He says, "If anybody's offended, too bad."

Donald Trump also incessantly decries "political correctness." Nick Gass of Politico, in an article posted September 23, quoted Trump speaking to a business group in South Carolina: "I'm so tired of this politically correct crap." Trump, of course, famously called Mexican immigrants "rapists" and "murderers," routinely insults women by disparaging their looks and their menstrual cycles, mocked a disabled reporter by mimicking his movements, and for a long time has been the leading "birther" in the United States -- persistently contending that our first African-American President is not, in fact, an American citizen, a claim that now is accepted as fact by the majority of Republicans, in large part because almost every other Republican leader has failed to defend the President against these demonstrably false attacks.

Mike Huckabee came under criticism after tweeting during a Democratic debate, "I trust Bernie Sanders with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with my Labrador." After being criticized for characterizing Koreans, the next day he posted, "Political correctness has run amok in this country!"

Ted Cruz and several other candidates have criticized Democratic leaders who refuse to use the term "radical Islamic terrorism." In a Talking Points Memo article published May 5, Caitlin MacNeal quoted Cruz as saying, "When given the choice between free speech and the political correctness of refusing to acknowledge radical Islamic terrorism, it is a time for choosing where we stand." In the same speech Cruz vigorously defended "religious liberty" laws that would have permitted private businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and described himself as standing up for the First Amendment when others were too afraid to do so.

Jeb Bush has decried "political correctness" in a number of contexts. In a statement supporting discrimination against gays and lesbians, as quoted in an article by Ryan Lovelace of the Washington Examiner on December 3:
The political correctness of our country needs to be shattered. ... The President of the United States has the authority in may ways to convene, has the bully pulpit to make sure that people know at least one person, the leader of the free world, will be on the side of people who only want to act on their religious beliefs.
In another case Bush needed multiple attempts to defend his use of an offensive term before deciding to strike back at "political correctness." In speaking about abuses of the right of "birthright citizenship," Bush used the term "anchor babies." When Hispanic groups objected to the use of the term, Bush explained that he hadn't meant to target them: "Frankly it's more related to Asian people ..." Then he decided that the apologies were unnecessary, stating, "I think we need to take a step back and chill out a little bit as it relates to the political correctness that somehow you need to be scolded a little bit when you say something."

Bush has on occasion criticized Donald Trump for trying to "insult his way to the Presidency." One of Trump's most offensive remarks was when made reference to a bathroom break for Hillary Clinton as "disgusting," and adding that in 2008 Clinton was "schlonged" by Barack Obama -- a twofer insult! Bush criticized Trump for his "profanity" (actually, Trump's language was vulgar, not profane). But Bush then implied that we shouldn't overreact to Trump's language -- that Clinton would simply use this opportunity to "play the victim." Bush stated:
She's great at being the victim. You know this will enhance her "victimology" status. This is what she loves doing.
Attacks on "political correctness" have been a mainstay of the far right for a long time. It is a staple argument of Rush Limbaugh, who repeatedly called Sandra Fluke a "slut" for defending women's access to birth control.  Ann Coulter (who referred to the President as a "retard" and who after hearing Republican candidates repeatedly express support for Israel, tweeted, "How many fucking Jews do these people think there are in the United States?") is also opposed to "political correctness." Coulter has repeatedly expressed the notion that political correctness, coupled with third world immigration and a massive welfare state, is bringing about "the end of America."

Trump, Carson, Cruz, Huckabee, Bush, Limbaugh, Coulter, and myriad other Republicans defend their use of degrading and insulting language by contending that criticism of their word choice is either feigned or unjustified. I disagree. Political correctness is primarily a refusal to use degrading language about other people. I try to be respectful of others; when I am not I am embarrassed. I try to avoid making ad hominem attacks on other people; when I fail I apologize. I would never intentionally vilify another person based upon their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability; if I do then shame on me.

There is something more significant that mere etiquette or debating style at stake here. And it is something more than merely appearing "presidential," as Jeb Bush seems concerned about. Those are all superficial or instrumental reasons for opposing a candidate's use of insults and epithets. What Trump and the candidates are doing isn't just a method of commanding attention or a way of getting under an opponent's skin. It is symptomatic of something much deeper and much more dangerous. It is an attempt to justify and normalize racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious hatred. Trump and others are appealing to these hateful instincts for political advantage.

If Ben Carson or anyone else were to make a holocaust joke in my presence, I would tell them that what they said was anti-semitic. When someone tells me that Barack Obama was not born in the United States I tell them that that unfounded belief is grounded in racism. When someone expresses the opinion that women can't write computer code or understand higher mathematics I point to my wife and daughters and tell them they are just sexist. I do not tolerate the use of words like "retarded" in discussions to which I am a party. I have lost friends because of this. Like Ben Carson says, "too bad." I am "politically correct" and proud of it.

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