I’d been planning to offer some thoughts on another right wing meme, “political correctness,” to follow up on my piece about “personal responsibility.” With the latest furor over “Bow Gate,” today seemed like a good time to post it. As usual, the right wing gets its hooks into our psyche with a grain of truth.
Reaction to the president’s bow to the emperor of Japan is a great example of the “political correctness” meme at work. “Politically,” it is unquestionably the “correct” thing to do. So how do conservatives manage to create “faux pas” hysteria out of run-of-the-mill protocol?
Again, the right wing deserves kudos for master manipulation of language. With “personal responsibility,” they use a phrase that sounds good and use it as a brand for something objectionable. With “political correctness,” they use a phrase that sounds repellent to drum up opposition to something good.
The phase “politically correct” is cleverly constructed to imply two things. The first is lack of intrinsic value. The word “political” suggests self-serving, deceptive, tactics designed to deceive and score points. It’s a brilliant misnomer, because the political context of civil rights, international protocol, and other acts of civility cannot be denied. It’s a very effective way to impugn the motives of “politically correct” behavior and make it appear to be exactly the opposite of what it actually is.
But it’s the word “correctness” that, in my opinion, is the real masterstroke of this sloganeering (thanks, Beachchick for that word!). Even the staccato sound of the word “correctness” suggest the rigid fussiness of a prim schoolmarm. It’s an unflattering, and deliberately female allusion. And it falls in line with the right wing’s ongoing use of feminine references to imply weakness, lack of resolve, and lack of judgment. Anything that smacks of compassion, kindness, respect, thoughtfulness, restraint—can be attacked as “femininizing.”
With the phrase “political correctness,” conservatives have packaged in a tight, two-word slogan, a psychologically charged attack on civility.
The continual ridicule of “political correctness” by right wing talking heads conditions their audiences to see anything less than a punch in the face as weak. It paves the way for conservatives to use the language of violence, epithet, and insult to mask their lack of well-reasoned argument in the public debate. It reduces all dialogue to a brawl. And it keeps us divided.
It was used after 911:
Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. —Karl Rove
It is being used to blame the army for the Fort Hood incident:
The incontrovertible facts surrounding the incident indicate conclusively that the mayhem was a direct result of political correctness run amok, the consequences of which, for this case, proved deadly. —John Kinsellagh
And this week it is the go-to basis for criticizing the president when he shows respect to another world leader. It is designed to “feminize” our president—to make him appear weak, submissive, subservient, even anti-American. Rather than the master diplomat that he is in reality.
The use of “femininity” as a pejorative to denigrate behavior is what I personally find most disturbing about the right’s focus on “political correctness.” Below are a few articles for more background on this aspect of right wing politics, along with a warning to progressives.
I have to wonder what would have happened if progressives had accused President Bush of political correctness when he held hands with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Would conservatives have had an answer? That might have yielded a clever talking point for future reference.