The older I get the more I am filled with wonder at how pervasive the concept of political correctness has become in our world, so much so that offensive words have begun to be just as important as offensive deeds.
And I think that political correctness has intruded on one of the most precious pillars of our government, a pillar that was embraced at the very beginning of this country.
I’m talking about the freedom of speech that is supposed to be protected at all costs.
There are two recent examples, one of them taking place in Milwaukee, that are illustrative of this idea that unsavory words and political positions must be punished.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz the Democratic National Committee Chair who was participating in a roundtable discussion in Milwaukee took a shot at Gov. Scott Walker.
"Scott Walker has given women the back of his hand. I know that is stark," she said. "I know that is direct. But that is reality. What Republican tea party extremists like Scott Walker are doing is they are grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back. It is not going to happen on our watch."
The reaction was immediate as Republicans screamed that she was using "domestic violence" language to make her point. They sent out fundraising letters asking for money to fight this "belittling victims of domestic violence," according to an appeal sent out by Walker’s wife, Tonette.
Wasserman Schultz quickly issued a statement of apology.
"I shouldn't have used the words I used," Wasserman Schultz said. "But that shouldn't detract from the broader point that I was making that Scott Walker's policies have been bad for Wisconsin women, whether it's mandating ultrasounds, repealing an equal pay law, or rejecting federal funding for preventative health care, Walker's record speaks for itself."
The second example of this concerns Bruce Levenson, the owner of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team. He wrote an email two years ago about his concern over how to attract more suburban (read: white) fans to the games. Levenson called for more "white cheerleaders" and music that would appeal to a "40-year-old white man" and fewer blacks on the arena kiss cam.
It wasn’t long before he scaled back, apologized and said he was going to sell his team.
"I wrote an email two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive," he said. "I trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e. hip-hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e. that white fans might be afraid of our black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans."
Nobody would ever argue that what these two said weren’t objectionable, even reprehensible. Levenson and Wasserman Schultz did should be ashamed of what they said.
But they were words, not deeds. There is no evidence that Levenson ever actually did anything that could be remotely regarded as racist. And it’s inconceivable to think that Wasserman Schultz diminishes the problem of domestic violence or that she advocates anything that would endorse it.
What troubles me about all of this is how we have come to expect dramatic apologies and action for saying something.
I wonder what the harm is if I were to say that all Jews were tight-fisted or that blacks were lazy or that Latinos were slobs or that all women should stay in the home and cook and raise children?
When Nazis march or skinheads shout or some crazy rancher in Wyoming spouts off or some wingnut gets television time, that’s the kind of thing we ought to cherish. Not what they say, but their right to say it without fear of retribution.
In addition, the idea that we can say some things and not say others seems to be a barrier to the kind of frank discussion of issues that we need in order to find solutions to problems.
We are gradually losing that very special quality about America and I, for one, am sad to see it eroding in the name of political correctness.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.