The PC Speech Police and 'Gotcha Politics'
On January 15, 1999, David Howard presumably woke up, had his breakfast and coffee, and headed for work in the administration of Mayor Anthony Williams in Washington, DC. Howard had a meeting that day with two of his staff, Marshall Brown and John Fanning. The topic of the meeting included the very small budget and Howard noted that he would have to be very “niggardly” with the funds available. Brown, who is black, was offended and reportedly stormed out of the office. Niggardly of course means stingy, dates back to at least the 13th century, and has no relation whatsoever to the racially charged “N-word.” Howard resigned under pressure and Williams, covering himself in ignorance and ignominy, accepted the resignation. In early March 2008, Geraldine Ferraro, former vice-presidential candidate and supporter of Hillary Clinton, stated:
If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.
The outcry from the Obama camp was immediate and furious. As a result, Ferraro stepped down from Hillary’s campaign, where she was a member of the finance committee. Ferraro did not, however, go “gentle into that good night”:
Every time that campaign is upset about something, they call it racist. I will not be discriminated against because I’m white. If they think they’re going to shut up Geraldine Ferraro with that kind of stuff, they don’t know me.
Even as a conservative I know that Ferraro is not a racist, yet the allegations have been rampant. Bill Clinton was accused of racism for his comments immediately after the South Carolina primary vote when he said:
Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88, Jesse Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here.
Hillary’s supporters have also made claims, not of racism, but of sexism. Kerry Howley, senior editor at Reason, writes:
Hillary is getting much sympathy from pundits and bloggers about the image problem that women leaders face. Most women have had that “shrill and strident” label smacked on their forehead at one point or another. They also know what it feels like when the young, handsome, Harvard-educated golden boys like Barack Obama take home all the prizes. These problems aren’t isolated to liberal women.
Add to this useful list of the worst jobs in the world: consultant to any candidate with breasts. Show emotion and you’re weak; show strength and you’re a collection of servos. Respond to attacks with emotion and you’re “angry”; respond with equanimity and you’re cold and distant. Shy from war and you’re too feminine to lead; embrace it and you’re the establishment’s whore. And the worst thing you can do? Acknowledge, in any way, shape, or form, the existence of sexism in these United States.
And the beat goes on, and the beat goes on! (With apologies to Cher). Racism, sexism! Sexism, racism! This was bound to be the charge floating around when two highly intelligent, highly motivated, strongly liberal candidates slug it out for the nomination. Both have, at one time or another, been asked to “drop out” in favor of the other. “Dream tickets” have been proposed with one or the other at the head of the ticket, and yet this is not likely to happen with two very strong egos on the line. Both have, in fact, agreed to the so-called “dream ticket” scenario -- but only if they are at the head of the ticket. Both have stated that they are in it to win.
So much for which candidate can bring us together! Obama, running as a black man, cannot not use the racism accusation when things aren’t going his way or when the opposing camp says anything even mentioning race, color, ethnicity, religion, etc. Hillary, similarly, cannot not use the sexism or misogyny accusation when any group of men “pile on” or express doubt about Hillary’s competence to be the president. Well, I would suggest that mentioning Obama’s race is not racism any more than disliking a particular female candidate is misogyny. Yet, when either party makes its claim, the other says something to the effect of: “Suck it up. If you can’t handle this, wait till the 'Rethuglicans' pile on with their dirty tricks.” Of course, that is presuming that the Republicans plan to run that kind of race and we haven’t yet seen that.
In early April, one of Obama’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention, Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski, noted children playing on a small magnolia tree were damaging the tree or could fall and hurt themselves (which it was depends on who told you the story). Stating that the children were acting like “monkeys,” she was ticketed for “disorderly conduct,” which in this case is defined as saying or doing something that “alarms or disturbs another.” I suspect we should note that the children were African-Americans and that the person reporting the alarming or disturbing racist remarks was an African-American mom who has had prior run-ins with Ramirez-Slinwinski. This was of sufficient magnitude to have the Obama team ask Ramirez-Sliwinski to step down as a delegate:
Moving to nip in the bud some potential bad press, White House hopeful Barack Obama's campaign persuaded a delegate to step down after she was ticketed for calling her neighbor's African-American children "monkeys."
I read the quote, and she didn’t call them monkeys; she said they were acting like monkeys. I guess in a highly charged, close, and contentious race, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Perhaps all of the remaining Democratic primary voters need to vote for “none of the above.”
G.M. Roper blogs at GM’s Corner.