The Triumph of Political Correctness

Beyond the rise of identity politics on the right, we’re seeing movement conservatism adopt an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach to political correctness. As Ilya Somin writes in a great post that I came across via Professor Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit:

Various Republican politicians and some other conservatives are calling on Harry Reid to resign because, back in 2008, he said that Obama had a chance to win the presidency due in part to the fact that he is a “light-skinned” black who doesn’t speak in “Negro dialect.” For reasons outlined by senior Conspirator Eugene Volokh, I think these remarks were not racist, even if they did use outdated terminology such as “Negro.” In addition, I believe conservatives should think long and hard about whether they really want to promote such an expansive definition of racism.

Conservatives and to a lesser extent libertarians are often accused of being racist for things like opposing affirmative action, skepticism about broad antidiscrimination laws, claiming that intergroup differences in income are not necessarily due to discrimination, arguing that some cultures are better than others, and so on. If the GOP wins this particular fight and Reid is forced to resign, there will be a new norm in public discourse under which no prominent person can openly say the same kinds of things as Reid without being labeled a racist. This norm will ensnare some people of all persuasions. It will also have the unfortunate effect of making honest discussion of racial issues even more difficult than it often is already. But in many settings — especially the media and the intellectual world — it is likely to be used most aggressively against conservatives and libertarians. And if conservatives complain that such attacks are unfair, their credibility will be undermined by their own previous attacks on Reid. I realize, of course, that it’s tempting to score some political points against Reid, especially at a time when Republicans see the Democrats’ popularity plummeting and hope to make major gains in the November elections. However, even forcing Reid to resign probably will have only a minor, temporary impact on the overall political balance of power. By contrast, the effect on discourse norms will be much more permanent.

If you’re keeping score, we’ve now got Rush Limbaugh arguably leading the United States in accusations of racism, Liz Cheney upset that insufficient political correctness is being applied to Harry Reid, and Abigail Thernstrom calling him a “racial boor” (in a post that argues the truly damaging thing about Trent Lott’s racial gaffe was the apology!).

Linda Chavez posts what the critical movement conservative’s reaction should be:

If Harry Reid were a Republican, he’d be history. But, on the other hand, his actual remarks, while politically incorrect, weren’t racist. If anything, what they suggest is that he believes race matters more to whites than it actually does. Democratic politicians believe that most whites harbor prejudice towards blacks; it’s why they believe you need racial preferences. If he owes anyone an apology, it’s the American people.

As it happens, I agree that a Republican who made a remark equivalent to what Senator Reid said would be excoriated, but having long chided a subset of liberals for making accusations of racism that aren’t warranted by the facts — see the Duke lacrosse case if you doubt this happens — I’ll be sorely disappointed if I now must live in a society where injustices of this sort are twice as frequent, but ideologically balanced. Perhaps John Tabin will regard this as mere hand-wringing. He criticizes me by saying that I diagnose “the pathologies of the right like a doctor who thinks every little sniffle is pneumonia.”

I’ll double down: I think there is substantial evidence that the right is infected with the cancers of identity politics and political correctness, and that aggressive treatment is warranted. Does Mr. Tabin agree, given the numerous examples offered here and elsewhere, and Mr. Somin’s point about how this sort of thing is likely to have a permanent effect on our national discourse?

Or does he stand by his statement that I’m overreacting?

I’ll gladly link any answer or counterargument he offers.

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3 Responses to “The Triumph of Political Correctness”

  1. davidlosangeles Says:

    Mr. Friedersdorf,

    To begin with, no Republican has yet to say that what Mr. Reid said is untrue, that white voters are more comfortable voting for a light-skinned man as compared to a darker skinned man. Gen. Colin Powell said pretty much the same thing about himself about ten years ago…”I speak reasonably well, like a white person,” and “I ain’t that black.”

    I think more to the point, the Republican Party is the party of racism. The Republican party actively seeks out the support of racists and actively defends racism. Sen. Lott and Sen. Thruman were unapologetic segregationists and opposed civil rights legislation consistently. This policy has gain them the support of voters who support their politics. So when a Republican says something insensitive along these lines, like what Trent Lott said about Strom Thurman, it is revealing of their political agenda.

    Mr. Reid campaigned for Mr. Obama and has been supportive of civil rights legislation. He has nothing to gain by endorsing racist perspectives, either for himself or his party. His comments were not attempts to garner the votes of racists and were actually supportive of getting Mr. Obama elected. This reveals nothing beyond Mr. Reid age and personal history.

    The Republicans are all aware of this, they are just trying to make hay while the sun shines. Their “outrage” is simply ideological posturing.

  2. citifieddoug Says:

    Anybody who uses the phrase “political correctness” in a sentence is over-reacting to something. It’s just not a phrase that can sound any way but shrill and whiny.

  3. The American Spectator : AmSpecBlog : Does The Right Have a Political Correctness Problem? Says:

    […] a little late to this, but on Tuesday Conor Friedersdorf responded again in the exchange we were having last week. (My earlier responses are here and here; you can follow […]

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