Obama Talks Political Correctness, from 'Hypersensitivity' to 'Irony' of Conservative Commentators

President Obama gives his last press briefing at White House on Dec. 16, 2016. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Sipa via AP Images)

President Obama said that before you can determine whether political correctness has gone too far, you need to define the “tricky” term “because the definition of political correctness is all over the map.”

The president was asked in an interview aired today on NPR whether his successor is correct in saying political correctness has been taken too far.

Obama mused that “the president-elect’s definition of political correctness would be different than mine.”

“If what’s meant by political correctness is that there’s some broad disapproval that’s expressed when somebody uses a racial epithet or somebody makes a derogatory about women, or about the LGBT community. And people say, ‘hey you shouldn’t do that. That’s wrong. That’s cruel. That’s hurtful. Here’s the history of that word.’ And when you use words like that, you’re reinforcing people feeling like they’re outsiders and less than other Americans,” Obama said. “I don’t consider that political correctness; I consider that good manners, sound of values, and hard-fought gains in the nature of American society and an American community.”

“I think it’s a good thing that we don’t think that using the N-word is socially acceptable. I think it’s a good thing that we don’t refer to women in derogatory ways because I have a couple of daughters and I don’t want them to feel that way.”

The president added, “If you’re narrowly defining political correctness as a hypersensitivity that ends up resulting in people not being able to express their opinions at all without somebody suggesting they’re a victim, you know, if sort of our social discourse and our political discourse becomes like walking on eggshells so that if somebody says, you know, what, I’m not sure affirmative action is the right way to solve racial problems in this country. And they’re — somebody’s immediately accused of being racist. Well, then, I think you have a point, although I happen to approve of affirmative action. But I think that I can have a polite dialogue with somebody who differs from me on that issue.”

Obama said his “advice to progressives like myself — and, this is advice I give my own daughters who are about to head off to college — is don’t go around just looking for insults — you’re tough.”

“If somebody says something you don’t agree with, just, you know, engage them on their ideas, but you don’t have to feel that somehow because you’re a black woman that you’re being assaulted. But speak up for yourself. And if you hear somebody saying something that’s insulting, feel free to say to — to that guy, you know what, you’re rude or you’re ignorant and take them on.”

The president underscored what he sees as “the irony in this debate” over political correctness.

“Oftentimes you’ll hear somebody like a Rush Limbaugh or other conservative commentators, or, you know, radio, you know, shock jocks or some conservative politicians who are very quick to jump on evidence of progressives being quote unquote ‘politically correct,’ but who are constantly aggrieved and hypersensitive about the things they care about and are continually feeding this sense of victimization and that they’re being subject to reverse discrimination,” he said.

Obama said an example of this has been “the notion that I was trying to kill Christmas.”

“Right? Well, where’d that come from? ‘Well, I bet, you know, well, he said happy holidays instead of merry Christmas. So, that, you know, that must be evidence of him either not being a Christian or not caring about Christmas.’ It — it sounds funny now, but you’ll have entire debates in conservative circles around that.”

Obama advised Americans, particularly young people, to “distinguish between being courteous and being thoughtful and thinking about how words effect other people and not demonizing others versus having legitimate political debates and disagreements.”