Friday, October 30, 2009

So-Called Political Correctness

“‘[P]olitical correctness’ isn’t a real thing. Rather, the term is a sort of catch-all charge that’s used against people who ask for more sensitivity to a particular cause than we're willing to give — a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them. It’s a way to say that their concerns don't deserve to be voiced, much less addressed.”   —Amanda Taub,

I wanted to post something before the month was through, so I thought that I would reprint another letter of mine that was published in the Los Angeles City Beat, this one on June 2, 2007:

Thanks to Thomas M. Sipos for his informative letter on so-called “political correctness” [Re: Letters, May 26]. However, I don’t think that the letter dealt fully with the use of the phrase by the political right.

The right’s negative use of the term “political correctness” may have begun as an objection to ill-advised campus speech codes, as Mr. Sipos says, but it didn’t stay there. The term eventually came to be used against many kinds of liberal thought on the presumption that voicing conservative opposition to those thoughts was a daring thing to do. Before long, conservatives were using the phrase … well … liberally to characterize virtually all left-of-center opinions — however well-reasoned and well-argued — as inherently unthinking and doctrinaire.

Today, “political correctness” in the right’s imagination has taken on the dimensions of a pervasive, oppressive ideology that dwarfs conservatism. As a result, even though conservatives control both the White House and Congress (and the Supreme Court as well), and even though conservative organizations are much better financed than liberal ones, the right can still play the underdog courageously standing up to a monstrous behemoth. In other words, the idea of “political correctness” allows Goliath to masquerade as David.

The phrase “political correctness” wouldn’t be as problematic if it were popularly applied to conservative dogma in the way that it’s applied to more liberal ideas. But when George W. Bush refuses to consider further government funding of promising stem-cell research for ideological reasons, or when a conservative commentator instantly dismisses a substantive opposing argument as “liberal whining,” such right-wing inflexibility isn’t usually characterized as “political correctness.”

Update, August 7, 2015: I have added the quote from’s Amanda Taub at the top of the post.  

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