Daniel Henninger checks in on where things stand in America’s politically correct overculture:
Few would disagree that it would be a good thing if Don Imus became the last man in public to call a black woman a “ho.” Few in the civilized world would miss hearing rappers rhyme women with “witch” and “bigger.” And as a result, some would say, see, political correctness really does have its uses. It bans what nearly anyone would consider hateful, tasteless, insulting, abusive, disgusting language.
Right. That used to be known as good taste before the left delivered PC into the world. Over the years, political correctness has seemed to wax and wane, without ever disappearing. It was a relief when it offered a few laughs. What has never gone away, though, is the fact that ultimately political correctness is toxic.
Exhibit A is the Duke lacrosse team. Exhibit B is the annihilation of Harvard President Larry Summers. All the other exhibits are the forgotten professors, DJs and commentators whose jobs ended with a wrong phrase.
Duke was a particularly virulent strain of PC. It was breathtaking how fast the Duke incident broke into a politically correct scenario: privileged, women-baiting white males humiliate and assault a disadvantaged black female. Once rooted in the press, this “narrative” crushed the lives of the accused students, ruined the career of the team’s coach and almost trumped the criminal justice system. For a falsity, that’s pretty potent.
At a scholarly meeting two years ago, then-Harvard President Larry Summers suggested that women are underrepresented at the top of science and engineering because of what he described as the evidently more men than women who are “three and a half, four standard deviations above the mean.” I recall back then reading the transcript of Mr. Summer’s remarks, which is filled with caveats, obeisances, impenetrable prose and tangled logic. From this morass, it was possible to extract a big PC faux pas. But to think Mr. Summers was led from this turgid speech to the pyre, where his entire career as president of Harvard was immolated is, well, striking.
This is the way we live now: The only place where speech can occur without fear of job loss is on a cartoon show or in stand-up comedy. This means only the self-identified nuts can say what they want. Welcome to the asylum.
The left doesn’t mind if comedians savage PC. So what? You get to laugh at the cartoon version but they use the real stuff to fire and eliminate whomever they wish. Thus do we all become their sheep.
Henninger proposes a truce:
Most people subscribe to the soft form of PC, which holds that the world will be a better place when we all have a little more equitable love in our hearts. Fine. But the hard form, played out at Duke and Harvard, is not about evening the odds; it’s about exercising power, about reversing the odds. Thus, when a Larry Summers or Trent Lott trips up, the velvet glove of niceness comes off and the enemy is annihilated, abetted by a First Amendment media OK with executions for wrongful speech.
The result is that people sympathetic to PC’s nominal goals are taken aback at its virulent results. Kind of like hip-hop. So in the spirit of Russell Simmons’s overdue H-B-N ban, a proposed PC truce: Short of prosecutable acts, violations of PC should not lead to loss of livelihood. No more summary executions. No more firings. No more allowing the Al Sharptons to decide who makes a living and who doesn’t. Don Imus is financially set, but not so the average college prof or schmo sports commentator. With this no-job-loss rule in place, Mr. Summers’s enemies would have had to overthrow him on the merits of his presidency, not PC.
This won’t solve all the depredations of political correctness, or its penchant for imposing lifelong stigma on offenders. But it would stop the zombies who serve as administrators, executives and advertisers from being instruments of career destruction. Sanctions or suspensions can be meted on a case-specific basis. “Nappy-headed hos” deserved at least a pistol-whipping.
Imus is hardly a casualty to mourn, but Duke was a PC travesty, which we shouldn’t allow to slip down the memory hole. So was the Summers case. It’s long past time to make political correctness politically correct.
Sorry, I can’t see this happening–PC career annihilations are the left’s version of Animal House’s “Double Secret Probation”, or Monty Python’s Spanish Inquistion, and they like knowing that nobody expects where they will strike next.