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Speech is Free – But Only If Politically Correct

The truth hurts, and that's why it must be avoided at all costs, especially in Democratic presidential politics, writes Jules Crittenden.

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Jules Crittenden

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March 16, 2008 - 1:00 am

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Democratic Party, its two remaining presidential candidates and their campaigns for the important lessons in sensitivity and political correctness they have offered in recent weeks.

Political correctness is not simply the denial and dispute of facts or subject matter, but more practically the denial of the right to speak them, due to their objectionable or politically inconvenient nature. It’s generally wielded as a weapon against opponents. But it is more fascinating to watch it swung as a cudgel against allies. And in a campaign in which the strongest points … hope, change, experience … have tended to be a little vague or tenuous at best, the most memorable moments turn out to be about what must not be said, when we’ve seen that cudgel come down.

Of course they have platforms. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have attempted to outbid each other with your money. There are subsidies for universal healthcare, giveaways to newborns, that kind of thing. It theoretically gets paid for by taking from the rich, but stopping the war. Though that of course depends on what your definition of rich is, and whether the war can stopped, a question highlighted last week by ousted Obama advisor Samantha Power’s revelation that there is no plan to stop it.

The true substance of the campaign, that part which resonates, has been the most ethereal, the twin mantles of hope and change at which both candidates tugged.

Obama won, and got to keep them. Hillary got the booby prize … sorry, bad choice of words … of experience, such as it is. The first viable woman candidate for president has been in the awkward position of having to highlight a lifetime spent in the shadow of and then on the coattails of her husband’s career. That has regrettably turned out to be as insubstantial as Obama’s change-hoping, but that doesn’t really matter, because as we’ve seen, what matters is the words themselves, and not what they stand for.

So the real campaign has been fought over words. But there are some words that must not be spoken. Power called Clinton a “monster,” and within two days was bounced from the campaign. It didn’t seem like that big a deal. An offhand remark that both the speaker and the campaign could easily downplay and move on. But in any case a worthwhile topic for discussion. A large part of the right-half of the American electorate probably agrees with Power, and it is fascinating to see the same sentiment emerging on the left. So is Hillary a monster or isn’t she? What constitutes monstrous behavior? Forbidden.

Geraldine Ferraro, with the good grace to acknowledge that her own place on the 1984 ticket was due to gender, stated that Obama would not be where he is if he were not black. It’s a fair point that has been obliquely remarked upon in various quarters, but generally a point no one wants to make a big deal out of. After all, look what happened to Bill Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro when they went near that third rail. They were denounced as racists. Bill was shoved in a closet till it blew over. Ferraro was shown the door. Race — for all the advances that have been made in the United States, the leading nation on Earth in aggressively addressing its atrocious history of race relations — remains a subject that cannot be freely discussed in this country. The fact that one of the least-experienced candidates in the race with the most insubstantial message, may have attracted attention from the start because he is a charismatic black man is a fact that must not be stated. You may state that he is the embodied of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, and that his candidacy offers hope because he is black, but you may not state that he has arrived at a position of prominence in the race for that reason, or even that it may prove a hindrance. The racial element of heavy support for Hillary Clinton by blue-collar Democrats in Ohio, for example, was reported on by the Associated Press in a painstakingly awkward fashion as a reaction to Obama’s strong support among blacks, rather the fact that he is himself a black man … in an article that rather offensively linked its indirect suggestion of racism directly to Reaganism.

It’s not clear how anyone can transcend racial prejudices, racial preferences and the full range of racial issues when an open discussion is not allowed, but the political party that claims the mantle of the civil rights movement has deemed it so, and there seems to be general agreement in the larger society, so there we are. Speech may be free. But this speech is forbidden.

Political correctness cuts a lot of different ways. A lot of people on the right have been offended when Gloria Steinem — the latter talking up Hillary — made remarks perceived as anti-military. Rather than demanding apologies, we should welcome this kind of speech. By their words and deeds, after all, shall we know them.

John McCain was asked to distance himself from an evangelical minister whose church he did not belong to, but whose support he enjoyed, over that minister’s anti-Catholic remarks. McCain distanced himself from the remarks, but said, quite practically, he appreciates the support. No one has seriously suggested McCain is an anti-Catholic bigot, or that this represents anything but the fringe views of a person who, for other reasons, supports the candidate. Presumably we’re not going to hear much more squawking about that.

Because Obama has now asked America to allow him to distance himself from the “God damn America” and anti-Israel remarks of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor who married him, whose church he has attended for 20 years and continues to attend.

Obama begins his argument with the curious observation that the pastor in question was a United States Marine, which suggests Obama wants us to think that is why he sought him out and joined his church. Obama insists he never heard the pastor preach anti-Americanism from the pulpit or in private. It was all about social justice and God.

Social justice, as expounded by the left, usually involves a great deal of anti-capitalism and virulent opposition to American foreign policy, much like that voiced by the Rev. Wright. Given that the last 20 years takes us back three Republican administrations, through a period of considerable public debate over U.S. foreign policy, it seems a stretch to claim the subject never came up in an activist’s church in Obama’s presence.

But fine. The offending social justice practitioner is silenced. In fact, the offending social justice practitioner has been taken out and, figuratively, shot. Obama’s pastor is no longer part of the campaign.

We are not to think the spiritual counselor of this candidate had anything substantive to do with the formation of the candidate’s thoughts, aside from informing him about God, AIDS, and social justice — whatever the definition of the latter might be. Stating actual beliefs in strong terms … forbidden.

So what has been the lesson of all this political correctitude in the ’08 race?

In the cases of Power, Ferraro, Steinem and now Wright, what is squelched or denied is not simply some inconvenient utterances, but the massive icebergs they are represent. In the case of Power, the simple fact that politics and campaigning is a tough, not particularly noble business. The fact that racial issues are far more complex, cut across party lines, and for the most superficial of reasons … race itself … work both for and against candidates. In the case of Steinem and Wright, the pervasive sense on the far left that the United States military and that America is a force of greater evil than good in the world. Though both Clinton and Obama have expressed foreign policy views that more diplomatically support those positions, that naked an exposition is not in their interest.

The PC lesson of the day: The truth hurts. That’s why it must be avoided at all costs.

How can we ever thank the Democratic Party, its two remaining presidential candidates and their campaigns? I don’t know. But if the American people, some of whom can be fooled all the time, all of whom can be fooled part of the time, have noticed what is going on, they may well thank the Democrats in their own way.

Jules Crittenden blogs at Forward Movement.

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