The Politically Correct Conundrum
First off, let me start out by saying Helen Thomas’ recent statements about Jews in Israel went far beyond what I consider “politically incorrect.” But Thomas’ statement does open a dialogue on an important issue. More than one, actually. To read what I consider the most insightful point of view on the Thomas scandal, please click here.
Helen Thomas has “resigned” since the writing of that article. It’s probably closer to the truth to claim she was forced into retirement. She was dropped by her agent and Robert Gibbs correctly denounced her statements as offensive. But now, with the removal of Helen Thomas, the conversation will die again, and antisemitism will continue to be a quiet undercurrent in the American media and, consequently, the American culture.
This is the ultimate problem with reactionary political correctness. Take Don Imus’ “nappy headed hos” comment. Because Imus was conservative, the liberal media went into a frenzy, once again painting all conservatives as racists and demanding Imus be fired, which he was. And the conversation died. Meanwhile, that same liberal media has largely downplayed Thomas’ statements and denounced the resulting protest.
This has turned into another liberal v. conservative session of name-calling and blaming. Meanwhile, relatively few people are addressing the larger issue: antisemitism.
Increasingly, in our culture, we can’t say what we want. We have to couch our language in touchy-feely terms leaving any message so watered down as to be almost insensible and undefinable by the low signal-to-noise ratio. This is a liberal problem, though conservatives sometimes play the same game.
Hate speech, it’s called. In a post I recently wrote, I cited an article on Ars Technica, where watchdogs are calling for the FCC to “monitor” such speech, in the traditional media and on the Internet.
Of course, the definition of hate speech is that speech which offends the sensibilities of minority groups. It’s perfectly fine for liberals to call white Tea Party members racists, and black Tea party members Uncle Toms. The liberal media is desperately trying to link the points of view of people like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to racially motivated violence, all in order to shut down those voices and remove opposition to the liberal agenda.
Meanwhile, radical members of groups like La Raza speak openly, calling for “revolution” and an open agenda to usher in an age of socialism in the United States. When a liberal minority member does this, it is “protected speech,” no matter how hateful it might be.
Remember, 25 years ago, when everyone was blaming violence on rock music like Ozzy Osbourne? Now, we’re blaming it on video games, movies and Ann Coulter.
It’s all about shutting people down, blaming the actions of the unbalanced on the words and art of others. The fact is: 99.99% of people who listen to heavy metal don’t sacrifice their children in ritualistic Satanic acts. 99.99% of people who play Halo and World of Warcraft don’t shoot their parents. And 99.99999% of people who watch Glenn Beck or read Ann Coulter don’t have violent tendencies towards anyone.
The idea that some speech should be illegal because it is “hateful” is outrageous. I would rather someone just come out and call me a “faggot” than pretend to tolerate me and undermine me in secret. Firstly, I’d like to know if someone is that stupidly intolerant. Secondly, outlawing speech just outlaws dialogue, and if liberals are truly concerned about changing ideas, then they should welcome dialogue, not stifle it. In fact, I – until fairly recently – supported the idea of “hate speech” and “hate crimes.” It was only through vigorous dialogue and debate with friends who disagreed, and whom I love dearly, that I changed my mind.
Let me use two recent examples that, frankly, offended me:
Recently, Bill O’Reilly of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, ran a McDonald’s commercial that aired in France and was clearly targeted to a gay market. I thought the commercial itself was kind of sweet, personally. It wasn’t overtly sexual, but it did have a pro-gay message, to which O’Reilly objected. “What’s next?” The famous conservative host asked. “A commercial targeting Al-Qaeda?”
Being compared to a terrorist because of my orientation is every bit as offensive as anything Helen Thomas said about Jews, but not one conservative I know of even blinked an eye. Should O’Reilly be fired? Hell, no! Mr. O’Reilly makes no bones about his distaste for homosexuality. Also, 95% of what he says on his show has nothing to do with homosexuality at all. It’s much better to be able to use O’Reilly’s comments to open a dialogue with conservative friends than to try and shut him down.
Had I the power to take O’Reilly off the air, I’d only be shooting myself in the foot, since I enjoy his show and agree with easily 85-90% of what he has to say.
From what little I know of O’Reilly, I firmly believe he would set aside his distaste of my orientation to help me out of a burning building or protect my freedom of speech. I’d by a hypocrite if I didn’t give him the same consideration.
My second example is more personal. I’ve started hanging out with a core group of highly irreverent and intelligent conservatives on Twitter. They range from the unknown, like myself, to the very well known (whose names I won’t mention, lest it seem like I’m calling them out on something, which isn’t my intention).
One of them hosts a popular Internet radio show, and he never goes longer than five minutes without making a gay slur. He questions the masculinity of his liberal opponents, then calls out liberals who do the same of him and his friends as being intolerant.
My initial reaction was to play along, which I did and will continue to do. But, a couple of nights ago, it really got to me. My feelings were hurt, even though none of this man’s comments were directed at me. I never intended to make a big stink, but I did – very briefly – consider never listening to his show, or participating with this group of people, ever again.
Then, I thought better. This man, and this entire group of people, are the salt of the earth. I am having a hard time breaking into the “circle,” and at first I thought that must have something to do with my orientation. But I came to realize they are simply a close-knit group of friends who have interacted and gotten to know each other over time. They’re not treating me differently because I’m gay; they’re treating me exactly the same as they would any other relative stranger: with cautious friendship.
Had I walked away, I would have left with sore feelings and having passed by friendship and networking opportunities with people with whom I agree on most everything. The fact is, most of them don’t even read my blog, and even here I don’t mention my orientation often, so they may not even realize I’m gay. Most of them who do know probably don’t care one way or the other. We’re not a group because of our fringe interests and minority statuses. We’re a group because we share core conservative values and enjoy talking about them.
And that’s the real problem with “hate speech,” after all. As a minority member, I was carefully taught by the left to focus on the 10% of me that was different from most people. Everything had to be about gay rights this and queer dignity that. As a conservative, I’m learning to focus on the 90% of me that shares values with everyone else (well, everyone else that is conservative, at least).
The “you can’t say that” line of thought leads to division, not inclusion. It leads to segregation more truthfully than any Jim Crow law. And, it’s morally wrong. It is wrong to enforce a social point of view. It is wrong to engage in speech and thought policing.
One final anecdote before I wrap up:
When I attended a very liberal community college, I decided – against my better judgment – to get involved with the gay student union. I went to exactly one meeting. During that meeting, the group spent three hours trying to rename itself to be all inclusive. Some people wanted to use the word “queer,” while other people hated the term. Some people insisted “lesbian” be listed before “gay.” And others said, “Well, what about transsexuals?” After three hours of completely pointless politically correct debate, absolutely no decision was reached. I never went back.
Liberals are offense kleptomaniacs, many of them. They take offense wherever they can grab it, and use it as a tool to control the words and actions of others. Conservatives are more reality based. We know it is ultimately up to us as individuals to make a decision to be offended or not.
Just like I know that mentioning my orientation at all will mean I will lose followers and readers. There are some conservatives who seriously do not like gay people. There are just as many liberals who feel the same way. I’d rather lose an honest conservative follower than retain a silently resentful liberal one. The conservative may find me “disgusting,” but at the polls, we will work to achieve the same goals, whether he or she agrees with my “lifestyle” or not.
That’s why this post exists. I’m exercising my freedom of speech as a gay conservative. To impose the gay agenda on the conservative movement? Hell no! I’m not trying to bring conservatives out of the gay closet, I’m trying to bring gays out of the conservative closet.
The unity and strength of America lies in its freedoms, not in its restrictions. We don’t have to all like each other, but we must begin respecting each others’ rights. That begins with the freedom of speech. For all people. As more and more minority members realize this, the ranks of conservatism in this country will surely grow.
By all means, continue to shout down the Helen Thomas’ of this world. Call her an anti-semite, for she certainly is one. But don’t censor. Don’t ever censor. Don’t encourage the Hearst Papers or Fox News Channels of this world to fire people for their opinions. Don’t ever give the government the “right” to control what comes out of my mouth or from the tapping on my keyboard. Because, I guarantee you, if they come for my freedom of speech today, they’ll come for yours tomorrow.
If you can’t be motivated by the ultimate morality upon which my freedom of speech is founded, at the very least, be motivated by a healthy self-interest in protecting your own.