Things You Can’t Say

In the ongoing culture wars there has always been some disagreement about what you can say and what you really should not say – with those on the right constantly inveighing against political correctness. They don’t have much use for it. You should be able to say what you mean and call a spade a spade. And if that has racial overtones, that’s too bad. Always trying to minimize social and institutional offense regarding occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, disability, and age-related issues would mean you could never say what you mean. The list is too long, and concerns about offending certain classes of people or expressing bias are, it is argued, what stops democracy dead in its tracks. No one can say anything. And it’s hard to keep even one set of terms straight – a term is suddenly offensive and you have to use the new term, as it was Negro, Colored, Black, Afro-American and then African-American. You get caught on an absurd euphemism treadmill.

And this has long been a weapon on the right. See Will Hutton almost ten years ago:

Political correctness is one of the brilliant tools that the American Right developed in the mid-1980s, as part of its demolition of American liberalism. … What the sharpest thinkers on the American Right saw quickly was that by declaring war on the cultural manifestations of liberalism – by leveling the charge of “political correctness” against its exponents – they could discredit the whole political project.

In fact the argument was always that those on the left were so careful with what they were saying – not wanting to offend anyone at all – that they were saying nothing at all. And we’ve had decades of that argument, with Pat Buchanan once arguing that political correctness was simply Cultural Marxism – empty nonsense that the left wants everyone to adopt – and he’ll have none of it.

But it goes both ways. You might remember the backlash against Dixie Chicks for remarks they made about Bush onstage in London in 2003 – they said Bush made them ashamed to be from Texas. Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly called what they said treasonous. And Bill Maher’s show Politically Incorrect was canceled after the remarks he made about the 9/11 hijackers – they were evil, and crazy, but, unlike what Bush had been saying, they certainly weren’t cowards. The White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said “people have to watch what they say and watch what they do.” His show was cancelled, and it got real ugly – reporters here and there were fired for reporting things the wrong way.

And who could forget Freedom Fries – calling those deep-fried potato sticks French offended Real Americans, who had been traumatized and then betrayed by French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin – and shouldn’t be done.

It was all a little strange. And now there are the conservative calls for “civility” – don’t call conservatives narrow-minded or bigoted or out of touch or simplistic or even wrong on any issue. That would be politically incorrect – uncivil and rude – and an attempt to shut them down and take away their freedom. Criticizing them would be censoring them. Doctor Laura just used that argument – yeah, she used the word “nigger” a dozen times on her show one day, but everyone upset with her was attempting to shut her down, so she just quit her show entirely, as her right to free speech was simply gone. And Sarah Palin cheered her on – but also had said that no one can ever use the word retarded in any context. The word hurts her too much, given her special needs infant. How could people, like Rahm Emanuel, be so rude?

But still, those on the right do insist they have the right to call a spade a spade, even if that spade is Obama. If you worry about hurting some whining idiot’s feelings you can never say what you mean.

And they’ll play that card. See this Republican Party website in Minnesota that posted this YouTube video – a video of gauzy shots of “hot” GOP women like Sarah Palin set to “She’s A Lady” – and then high-resolution close-up shots of “ugly” liberal women like Hillary Clinton set to “Who Let the Dogs Out?” One women involved in the state House race has called the video “juvenile” and asked for it to be removed, but the webmaster refused and told the Minnesota Independent that the whole idea was “to bring a smile to a few peoples’ face.” People are just too sensitive – but now the site no longer links to the video. Is this a free speech issue?

Maybe it is, and there was a flurry of comment on the left, but that soon passed. The Minnesota Republicans had every right to tout that video. If you want to come off as a bunch of sniggering and shallow assholes, go for it. The left had been saying the right was full of those and should have thanked them for that video – it proved the point and the left didn’t have to say a thing. Yes, Madeline Albright is one ugly woman. And your point is?

But the game goes on and on, and now even word-order matter. See the Glenn Beck Show from August 23, 2010:

OBAMA: We’re a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers.


BECK: That’s never been said before. I don’t think that’s ever been said before by the president of the United States in that order.

Beck goes on to say that he thought this was a Judeo-Christian country – everyone knows it is – and Obama arranged the words in a way that denies that America is what it obviously is. The man is out to destroy America as we know it and those with eyes to see can see that this is so:

He needlessly throws his hat into the ring to defend the Ground Zero mosque. He hosts Ramadan dinners, which a president can do. But then you just add all of this stuff up, his wife goes against the advice of the advisers, jets to Spain for vacation. What does she do there? She hits up the Alhambra Palace Mosque. Fine, it’s a tourist attraction. But is there anything more to this? Are they sending messages?

I don’t know. I don’t know. I never had to look for messages before – until we heard fundamental transformation and we all sat there like bumps on the log, thinking, well, I don’t know what that means. It doesn’t matter.

It matters! It matters!

This is odd. But political correctness is odd, as Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex constructed during the middle of the fourteenth century by the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada, and does contain a small mosque. But the Palace of Charles V, built by Charles V, the damned Holy Roman Emperor, was built there in 1527 – within the original fortifications. Yeah, it’s famous for its Islamic architecture, but also for the sixteenth century and later Christian buildings and gardens. And Washington Irving, of all people, lived there while writing Tales of the Alhambra – the same guy who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. And there was M. C. Escher’s visit in 1922 – and that led to stuff like this. There’s lot of Christian art there and stuff from former convents and churches in Granada, along with the crown and scepter of Queen Isabella and a collection of panels from the Flemish School and so on. Beck may think he’s connected the dots – the husband’s curious word order and the wife’s visit to a famous terrorist mosque – but what he thinks is politically correct needs to be adjusted with a bit more knowledge of what some of us know as the real world.

Should we all be politically correct about what we say and be careful about which tourist sites we visit? Beck is watching. Be careful.

But Labor Day weekend this year was a time for all sorts of violations of what should the rules about what should never ever be said. There was Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times with America’s History of Fear:

A radio interviewer asked me the other day if I thought bigotry was the only reason why someone might oppose the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan. No, I don’t. Most of the opponents aren’t bigots but well-meaning worriers – and during earlier waves of intolerance in American history, it was just the same.

Is he allowed to say that, that we’re all rather unaware well-meaning worriers? Is there nothing much to worry about? He does say the current anti-Muslim narrative in America these days is a whole lot like the way Catholics, Mormons and Jews were treated here in the past:

Suspicion of outsiders, of people who behave or worship differently, may be an ingrained element of the human condition, a survival instinct from our cave-man days. But we should also recognize that historically this distrust has led us to burn witches, intern Japanese-Americans, and turn away Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.

And he discussed the Know-Nothing movement that worried about the Catholic Menace:

One book warned that Catholicism was “the primary source” of all of America’s misfortunes, and there were whispering campaigns that presidents including Martin Van Buren and William McKinley were secretly working with the pope. Does that sound familiar?

By the way, just to clarify, the Know-Nothing Movement didn’t get its name because they were proud that they knew nothing – it’s just that if any outsider asked what they were up to they were sworn to say they knew nothing. Skyline Chili in Cincinnati doesn’t reveal its secret ingredient after all (it’s nutmeg).

But be that as it may, of course Jews were also once regarded as a menace, with warnings that they were plotting to destroy America:

All that is part of America’s heritage, and typically as each group has assimilated it has participated in the torment of newer arrivals – as in Father Charles Coughlin’s ferociously anti-Semitic radio broadcasts in the 1930s. Today’s recrudescence is the lies about President Obama’s faith, and the fear-mongering about the proposed Islamic center.

And he ends with this:

Americans have called on moderates in Muslim countries to speak out against extremists, to stand up for the tolerance they say they believe in. We should all have the guts do the same at home.

Good luck with that. Doing that is not politically correct, and some have called him a Liberal Half-Wit for suggesting any such thing. And see “Robert” at Jihad Watch with this:

Nicholas Kristof doesn’t think that those who are determined to resist the jihad and Islamic supremacism are bigots. Thank heaven for small favors. He just thinks we’re idiots.

This is followed by a long discussion of how the Catholics and Jews and all the rest actually wanted to be assimilated – they renounced their odd beliefs and renounced their heritage and tried to be like normal people, and succeeded – but Muslims don’t want to do that. Nicholas Kristof is just one more lame liberal trying to be politically correct:

Oh, and by the way, regarding that “Not-At-Ground-Zero Mosque”: the Burlington Coat Factory building that will be torn down to make way for this mosque is part of Ground Zero. The landing gear from one of the jetliners hijacked on September 11, 2001 flew into the building that the Islamic supremacists want to tear down to construct their mosque. That makes this building part of the 9/11 attack site, and will make the mosque – in the eyes of the Islamic world – exactly what the Dome of the Rock is: a mosque of victory built right on the site of the Muslim defeat of the Infidels. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on the site of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, are declarations of the superiority of Islam over Judaism, and its victory over Judaism. The mosque at the Burlington Coat Factory site, built on the site – not near it, but on it, because of that landing gear – of the Islamic jihad attack on September 11, 2001, will be seen as a declaration of the superiority of Islam over the United States, and its victory over the American economic machine.

Okay then – political correctness not only involves word order in lists, and tourist attractions in Spain, but now it somehow involves aircraft landing gear. How are we supposed to keep all this straight?

But that’s not the half of it. Simultaneously, in Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria offers What America Has Lost:

Nine years after 9/11, can anyone doubt that Al Qaeda is simply not that deadly a threat? Since that gruesome day in 2001, once governments everywhere began serious countermeasures, Osama bin Laden’s terror network has been unable to launch a single major attack on high-value targets in the United States and Europe. While it has inspired a few much smaller attacks by local jihadis, it has been unable to execute a single one itself. Today, Al Qaeda’s best hope is to find a troubled young man who has been radicalized over the Internet, and teach him to stuff his underwear with explosives.

Is he allowed to say that, to say that we overreacted? That’s touching the third rail – “an idea or topic that is so ‘charged’ and ‘untouchable’ that any politician or public official who dares to broach the subject would invariably suffer politically.”

But Fareed Zakaria goes there, with caveats:

I do not minimize Al Qaeda’s intentions, which are barbaric. I question its capabilities. In every recent conflict, the United States has been right about the evil intentions of its adversaries but massively exaggerated their strength. In the 1980s, we thought the Soviet Union was expanding its power and influence when it was on the verge of economic and political bankruptcy. In the 1990s, we were certain that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear arsenal. In fact, his factories could barely make soap.

Zakaria just sees the disproportionate response:

Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has created or reconfigured at least 263 organizations to tackle some aspect of the war on terror. The amount of money spent on intelligence has risen by 250 percent, to $75 billion (and that’s the public number, which is a gross underestimate). That’s more than the rest of the world spends put together. Thirty-three new building complexes have been built for intelligence bureaucracies alone, occupying 17 million square feet – the equivalent of 22 U.S. Capitols or three Pentagons. Five miles southeast of the White House, the largest government site in 50 years is being built – at a cost of $3.4 billion – to house the largest bureaucracy after the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs: the Department of Homeland Security, which has a workforce of 230,000 people.

A moderate conservative – James Joyner – offers this:

No doubt much of this was overkill. I opposed DHS from its inception. But my main concerns are about waste and the impact on our domestic freedoms. But what’s the evidence that all this hasn’t helped in thwarting attacks from al Qaeda?

That nothing happened might mean all this stuff works. And the rabbit’s foot in my pocket keeps space aliens from the planet Clorox II from invading Cleveland? Hasn’t that worked?

Joyner puts it another way:

These were major league foul-ups. We’ll have more of them in the future, given that human beings run our national security bureaucracy. So what?

Steve Hynd sees what is happening here. Zakaria really has touched that Third Rail in our national security debate:

It should be pointed out that a “major attack on high-value targets” does not include Madrid 2004 or London 2005 despite the terrible loss of life in those attacks. They simply didn’t create enough of an economic shock or enough awe at the choice of target in the way 9/11 did. It would, however, include the IRA bombings of the City of London in 1993 and 1994. Yet neither of those – nor any of the dozens of other attacks by groups like the IRA and ETA over the decades -occasioned a world-wide over-reaction like 9/11 did.

Nowadays – despite the raving of the US right – Al Qaida is not who we are fighting in Afghanistan (unless you’re willing to believe it takes 130,000 NATO troops to fight 50 Al Qaeda supermen) and was only ever a particularly virulent fraction of who we were fighting in Iraq. Yet as Zakaria points out, fear of Osama has fuelled a “homeland security” industry worth tens of billions of deficit dollars every year, a defense industry spending nearly a trillion every year, and has directly caused hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths. Not to mention the poisonous legacy of Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, torture and illegal rendition. Then there’s the proliferation of intelligence agencies tripping over each other to provide reports no-one reads.

Zakaria writes this:

In the past, the U.S. government has built up for wars, assumed emergency authority, and sometimes abused that power, yet always demobilized after the war. But this is a war without end. When do we declare victory? When do the emergency powers cease?

Conservatives are worried about the growing power of the state. Surely this usurpation is more worrisome than a few federal stimulus programs. When James Madison pondered this issue, he came to a simple conclusion: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war.”

Hynd adds this:

The response has costs, in lives and in dollars and in impact upon free, civil, society that utterly outweigh the costs of the original “causus belli”. How can we not call that an over-reaction?

The Right’s strawman counter-argument is that there have been no more high value attacks because of all this. But it’s a strawman because, as one of Joyner’s commenters points out, “You can argue that you shouldn’t have been using a machine gun to kill a fly without disputing that the fly is indeed dead.”

Can people say such things? “Patrick” at Political Byline says no:

No, you nimrod, terrorist-supporting, idiot. We did not overreact. We had information that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We acted on it. Yes, the intelligence was bad. So what? It happens. The truth is, once we weeded out the jack-wads, who did not know shit from shinola about running a fucking war – (Hello Rummy!) – we were able to stabilize that country and put leadership in there, that did not terrorize its own people.

So, yes, Iraq WAS worth it; and no we did NOT overreact.

Furthermore, once we break the back of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, it too will be worth it as well! People will die; that is the price you pay, when you fight a god-damned war. But in the end, when Afghanistan is free and clear of Al-Qaeda and their radical Muslim idiotic nonsense, it will be worth it.

Now that’s politically correct these days. And there’s more:

I apologize in advance for the harsh tone of this posting. But I am about god-damned tired of these terrorist-appeasing, asshole, liberal retards telling me that going to war against terrorists is not worth the god-damned hassle. Anytime, that the United States of America goes on the defensive, and also on the offensive, in the name of liberty and freedom, it is ALWAYS worth it! It was worth it in Germany, It was worth it in Japan, It was worth it in Korea, it was worth it in Grenada AND it was worth it in Iraq too, both god-damned times – and once the job is done in Afghanistan, it will be worth it there too.

So, on the behalf of all the Soldiers – American and Coalition – both who died and especially those who came back in one piece and even those who did not – to Mr. Fareed Zakaria I say:


That hits all the right notes – and at the site those last four words are not only all caps, but in bright red, twenty-four point bold san-serif. You get the idea.

Zakaria might sigh and say it really is hard to have a discussion of an important issue with someone who insists on political correctness. The right has been saying that since the mid-eighties. It can now be said back to them.

And Patrick offers more:

I suppose that I should explain something here. The reason why this article provoked such a strong reaction out of me is this; I watched 9/11 unfold on TV. At the time I was a CNN watcher. All of it played out in front of me. I remember being paralyzed with fear, when the report came out, that there was a plane headed to the White House. Watching those buildings fall and seeing those images over and over and over; drove me into one of the worst depressions that I have ever experienced. It, honestly, took me about two good years to get over that stuff. It took much prayer and some good old fashioned Bible-reading to pull me out of that mess. Al-Qaeda caused that; and for that, I want them to pay, and pay dearly. Now you understand why it is, that I feel the way that I do.

Yep, and that is to say no discussion is possible. There are some things one cannot say, ever – so shut the hell up. And once again, as Pat Buchanan said, political correctness is Cultural Marxism, with the roles reversed this time out.

And there’s Alex Pareene on how where Obama will spend 9/11 is apparently an important question:

Does the president need to do anything, for 9/11? I’d be fine with him sitting this one out. The world does not need more pious platitudes delivered on the anniversary of still-unfathomable violence and pain and destruction.

Though I guess pious platitudes are preferable to lower Manhattan hate marches, like the one that will be held at the site of the World Trade Center on the anniversary of the attacks. And that hate march is pretty much why Obama will definitely not be in New York.

But there is Politico:

No matter where he goes, the president’s critics will likely speak out. If he doesn’t go to New York, Obama could be accused of dodging ground zero because of the Islamic center. If he does, he risks facing the anger of some Sept. 11 families and New York officials offended by his position.

And of course he won’t go to Alhambra. But someone will always be offended. Perhaps Cleveland will do.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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