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The New Political Correctness
Tim Francis-Wright
25 March 2001

News comes from Brown University in Providence that leftist students destroyed most of a 16 March press run of the Brown Herald because the editors ran a provocative advertisement from David Horowitz three days earlier. Anyone thinking that this act was yet another act of political correctness are wrong for two reasons. First, the students have critics from all over the political spectrum. Second, true politically correct acts are determined by political leaders, not a grassroots group. The exemplar of this sort of political correctness is none other than the current administration and its apologists.

The advertisement in question, which questions the need to pay African-Americans reparations for the ills of slavery, is aggressive and argumentative. It's not hard to take offense at most of the points that it makes. However, the right to free speech in the American Constitution does not and should not take aggression, argumentation, or even racism into account. Protesters at Brown had three very good options for protest against the advertisement: run a couterning ad in the Herald); produce their own pamphlet, or website, countering Horowitz's arguments; or protest the decision of the Herald to run the ad.

Publications have the authority to accept whichever advertisements they wish, with very few exceptions (for example, real estate ads must meet the nondiscrimination tenets of the Fair Housing Act). Wise editors, however, would have accepted the ad and solicited commentary from the community for the issue in which the ad ran. The actual editors took an approach that was either naïve or cynical. Naïve editors might accept the ad without thinking that a very liberal campus might object. Cynical editors might accept the ad and expect that a very liberal campus would object.

In his January 1934 report to the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Stalin wrote, "after the correct political line has been laid down, organizational work decides everything, including the fate of the political line itself, its success or failure." [Online or offline in J. V. Stalin, Problems of Leninism (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1976) 751.] The politically correct line for the Brown protesters is probably one of the actions that I proposed above, depending on the political slant of those proposing the correct political line. (On many universities, the correct political line is generally not liberal at all.)

Among the critics of the Brown students are liberal supporters of civil liberties. For example, the editor of The Progressive argued in a recent on-line posting that it was meet and right for the Herald to accept the advertisement. Other left-leaning commentators, however, criticized both the newspaper for printing the ad, but also the protester's actions. For once, the received political wisdom is correct. If Brown students had simply issued their own pamphlet criticizing the Herald and countering the arguments in the ad, no one taken seriously in the national media would have criticized them. I maintain that the Brown protesters did one of the most politically incorrect things that they could have done by destroying part of a press run.

The Bush administration, on the other hand, provided a great example of real political correctness at work. During the campaign, George Bush trumpeted his environmental plan and how its mandatory carbon dioxide (CO2) limits were superior to the voluntary caps proposed by the Gore campaign. On 13 March, however, the administration announced that it would not propose any CO2 caps at all, because of the energy crisis facing America.

Despite this obvious change in the policy, Republicans maintained that there was no change in policy at all, that the earlier pronouncement was in error. Until the change, EPA administrator Christine Whitman acted as if the campaign's version of CO2 policy was in the actual policy. As late as 9 March, newspaper accounts explained that a grand compromise was looming to cut CO2 production. The few congressional Republicans who remember that Theodore Roosevelt, the environmentalist Presidents, was a Republican, were joining Democrats to impose CO2 caps, and the coal industry was going along, kicking and screaming. After the flip-flop, the media reported the pleasure of the coal industry at the administration's decision, because coal provides the fuel for more than 50% of the country's electrical production, and coal-burning plants produce about 40% of the nation's CO2 output.

Once George Bush announced the politically correct line, the organizational work began. It was important not to have Christine Whitman resign in protest, or show any sign of hewing against the new line. It was important to make sure that none of the 50 Republican senators did or said anything to undermine the received wisdom from on high.

So far, there have not been any cracks in the Republican façade. Perhaps a few Republicans in congress will see fit to buck their party leaders and support the compromise that seemed possible early in March. But, the organizational work that the Republican Party has been able to accomplish has served them well in the past few months. I see no reason that it will not continue to make Comrade Stalin's words continue to ring true.

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