Thursday, January 20, 2011

Civility and Political Correctness After the Arizona Shootings

Civility and Political Correctness After the Arizona Shootings

The President made a speech at the memorial for victims of the Arizona shooting calling for more civility in our discourse. The media eventually calmed down and stopped blaming Sarah Palin and her hunting metaphors for the tragedy in Arizona. USA Today reported that 53 percent of Americans saw the incident for what it was – the act of a madman. Most didn’t believe political language was at fault.

I hope these kinds of sentiments mark the start of a new era of levelheaded discourse. But don’t hold your breath. Last week’s meltdown was just the latest example of an increasingly strident campaign against free speech. Now at this point I would normally try to fix blame for this campaign but the truth is that I have heard attempts to beat down an opponent by using political correctness as a club coming out of the mouths of just about everyone –liberal, conservative, moderate, Democrat, Republican, and Independent. I even hear it being done in completely non-political settings, such as School Boards and Home Owners Associations. Many of my friends like to blame the “progressives” for all this. I don’t know, maybe they started it but the guys and gals on the right have sure learned to use it.

This craziness has targeted not only conservatives like Sarah Palin at the height of it but also moderates and just about anyone else who dares, even slightly, to exceed the bounds of political correctness. This latest round had the hysteria reaching new levels of ridiculousness.

One Congresswoman interviewed on cable television actually complained about conservatives’ use of the term “job killing” to describe Obamacare. What are we supposed to say instead? The alternatives to “job killing” are not exactly catchy (“job deleting?” “employment removing?”). Sometimes good common sense seems to be completely missing from our representatives in Washington.

Some debates on cable television have the dignity of a brawl in a high school lunchroom. As more than a few observers have pointed out, nasty rhetoric is used on both sides. But I have to admit: when it comes to incendiary contributions to the lexicon, the left has for decades beaten everyone else, hands down.

I’m not just talking about “Kill Bush” and other slogans that have adorned T-shirts at demonstrations across the land in the past ten years. (There’s also the current favorite, “Guns Don’t Kill People, Sarah Palin Kills People.”) Those of us old enough to recall the political turbulence of the 1960s and 70s should also remember clenched fist power salutes and classics like “Off the Pigs!” Who do you think gave us those? (Clue: Not John Boehner.)

How the pendulum does swing. Who would have imagined that the ideological descendants of the 60s and 70s left – many of whom once rebelled against the Mad Men-style social restraints of their 50s parents – would have morphed into fussy ninnies who get their knickers in a twist over figures of speech?

Some – astoundingly – even want European-style controls on what people can and cannot say in the workplace and in a public forum. They want to force euphemisms on discourse that are hundreds of times more insipid than anyone in the 1950s could have ever dreamed up.

Sarah Palin’s supposed speech crime involved using a map placing the districts of political opponents in rifle crosshairs. But there was never the faintest evidence that the Arizona shooter had any awareness of this map, or anything Palin said. After being hammered for days in the media, she finally stepped up to defend herself, setting off another firestorm with her use of the term “blood libel,” which critics said had anti-Semitic overtones. Yet the term “blood libel” appeared several days before without incident in a widely lauded piece in the Wall Street Journal. Even Alan Dershowitz, a liberal, pointed out that the expression now has broader meaning.

Civility is important and I understand that you don’t shout fire in a crowded theater, but at what point does political correctness become so inhibiting that it becomes impossible to say anything. You’ll end up with a nation as tongue-tied as Porky Pig. No, it’s equally important to have the freedom to say what you mean!

In a democracy it’s often necessary to put up with words and ideas that you may not like. However, just because you shouldn’t take away people’s gun metaphors doesn’t mean we can’t come up with fresher verbiage. People offended by hunting images don’t have to use them. In speech, as in everything else, the solution isn’t more restraints – but more choice. We should relegate the people who use political correctness as a weapon instead of a simple courtesy and their authoritarian ideas to the trash bin of history.

Live Long and Prosper....

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