AN AMERICAN VIEW

Playing politics with political correctness

The movement has nothing to do with stifling debate, but indicates a social hardening on the part of critics

FRED BRUNING June 10 1991
AN AMERICAN VIEW

Playing politics with political correctness

The movement has nothing to do with stifling debate, but indicates a social hardening on the part of critics

FRED BRUNING June 10 1991

Playing politics with political correctness

AN AMERICAN VIEW

FRED BRUNING

President Bush fears the nation is jeopardized by political correctness, which he associates with slavish adherence to trendy causes like civil rights, racial harmony and respect for minority opinion. But the chief executive worries needlessly. As leading indicators demonstrate, the status quo is assured. Americans long at a disadvantage remain properly mired. Liberalism continues in retreat. Military fervor is on the rise. Somewhere, there is a Willie Horton waiting to be discovered in time for Campaign ’92.

Politically correct? Being politically correct has nothing to do with stifling debate on campuses—about as likely as stifling undergraduate beer consumption, by the way—but with a sort of social hardening that is taking place. President Bush can conjure Disneyland skies brilliant with the light of our good works, but that is just the stuff of speech writers and publicity agents. In fact, we are heading in the opposite direction. “You people are garbage!” yelled the woman at a small peace contingent standing vigil at a Persian Gulf victory parade. “You go to hell!” As anyone who has observed America over the past six months can attest, the woman had her priorities perfectly in order. Politically correct to the max.

Actually, we have been practising this PC business for some time. Throughout the 1980s, Americans were instructed by Ronald Reagan, his celestially attuned wife and assorted neoconservatives of the gonzo persuasion that the country had shamed itself in the previous decade and required an immediate spiritual overhaul. No longer were we to look outward as a people, but ever and only towards ourselves. No longer were we to strive for unity as Americans, but for individual advancement. No longer were we to address grievances, but belittle the aggrieved. No longer was government to protect the vulnerable, but embrace the strong.

In an anti-PC address at the University of

Fred Bruning is a writer with Newsday in New York.

The movement has nothing to do with stifling debate, but indicates a social hardening on the part of critics

Michigan, President Bush took up the theme. A quarter-century after the fact, he blasted Lyndon Johnson’s notion of a Great Society and said that while LBJ meant well, the big galoot just did not grasp all the essentials. Why, said Bush, federal programs only make the poor dependent, rob them of initiative and generate hard feelings among other Americans. Government should not be the engine of social policy, he declared, and observed it was inevitable that LBJ’s dream would go bust.

Now there is something shoddy about a fellow who has attended Andover and Yale, and who relaxes at the mansion in Maine, and who long has supplemented his hefty bank account with a government paycheque—oh, there is something sad about such a fellow standing before young people at a state-supported university to complain that an attempt 25 years ago to lift millions out of despair was regrettable and misguided, and to somehow suggest that political correctness back then was at fault and that the country faces the same sort of peril now.

Hopefully, the history majors in the crowd were listening carefully because the President’s pitch not only was unbecoming and petty, but was wrong—so factually misleading

that one can only wonder if George Bush is able to recall what the Great Society was about or whether he simply grabs any speech handed him and starts rapping. In this case, he would have been better off reading the funnies to those about to depart for the real world—a world badly in need of attention.

Left unsaid by Bush—and by the feverish writer of pulp fiction who surely ghosted the Ann Arbor speech—was that Great Society programs have served the nation in exemplary fashion. They have provided education aid, food stamps, consumer protection, auto safety regulations and environmental safeguards. Great Society legislation included the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Medicare and created Head Start, the plan by which underprivileged youngsters prepare for a lifetime of learning. Yet Bush insists that the attempt came to naught and that Johnson’s ideas “were not up to the task.” Earth to Leader of the Free World: come in, please.

Now, if everyone promises not to laugh, let us invoke the name of a certain George McGovern. Though the former Democratic senator from South Dakota carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia in his 1972 presidential race against Richard Nixon, he has for months, quite astoundingly, been pondering another run for the White House.

McGovern is no fool, far from it, but he is a man of considerable dedication and, evidently, almost unsurpassed capacity for punishment. Upon surveying the Democratic scene and spying no one set to challenge Bush next year, McGovern said that he’d volunteer if others could not be recruited. Happily, McGovern now says that it appears Bush will not win by acclamation, after all—that there is stirring in opposition ranks—and that he, McGovern, is heading for the exit.

Before saying so long, however, McGovern admonished his fellow Democrats. “It is a matter of some personal embarrassment to me that my party has for the most part either gone along with the Reagan-Bush policies or, at best, protested with a wavering and feeble voice,” McGovern said. “We need a conservative party in the United States, but with all due respect to the Democratic Leadership Council, we don’t need two conservative parties.”

And, of course, McGovern is on target. You have today a situation where Democrats are running about like perfect fools trying to convince the American people that they are just as tightfisted, meanspirited, shortsighted, warready and elitist as the folks over at the White House and it is a distressing situation, indeed.

Next year, Bush will seek re-election by appealing to whatever he considers the worst fears of the American people. Communism, the previous favorite, is on the rocks and you can’t expect some silly side issue like the Pledge of Allegiance to do the trick two elections in a row. So there is a good chance the chief executive will try to exploit affirmative action or hiring quotas or—the current favorite— academic integrity. Democrats, who face long odds anyway, ought to stick by party principles, preserve their dignity and dare the President to brand them politically correct.