Monday, July 2, 2007

Real "Political Correctness"

For many years now the right-wing in the U.S. has used the term "politically correct" to caricature those who try to remove racist, sexist, militarist and other like minded forms of speech from popular usage. The right has also applied the term to those who criticize racist, sexist, militarist and allied policies. The underlying assumption that the right seeks to develop is that such language and such policies are "normal" and acceptable and really represent what people think, even many of the people who are are critics.

The term "politically correct" has an interesting history. "New Left" radicals of the Abbie Hoffman variety, whose politics were closer to anarchism than to Marxism, used the term among themselves to make fun of "old left" or Communist activists who in debates sought to find the "correct position" (in terms of theory and practice to inform policy) which, when one stops to think about it, is what any political group that is not either sectarian or opportunist should be doing.

The "new lefties" used the term to make fun of what they considered to be "old left" dogmatism. The right has used its version of "political correctness" to caricature those who oppose both its policies and those who reject the "good old days" when racist politicians used the N word routinely in Congress, racist, sexist (including crudely homophobic) stereotyping and humor permeated mass media, and those who criticized nuclear radiation and/or proliferation, along with the Korean and later Vietnam Wars, were condemned as either Soviet agents, "Communist dupes," or "tenderminded" vaguely effeminate individuals who had no knowledge of the real world.

But the right has been in power at the national level for most of the period since Ronald Reagan became president and broke sharply in his policies with previous Republican administrations in regard union busting, undermining existing civil rights legislation, and rejection of detente in the cold war, so the concept of "political correctness" as it is used today has nothing to do with real politics in the U.S. Like most positions associated with the right-wing, should be turned inside out if one is to get to the truth.

I mean that when the right argues that "socialized medicine" for example doesn't work and has been a failure through the world, the easily verifiable truth is that it has been an enormous success through the developed world when compared to the U.S. system. When the right contends that tax cuts and deregulation create enormous productive "economic growth," the record shows that such policies produce stagnation in real wages and a decline in productive investments as against speculation, which makes the "growth" largely parasitic, "creating" cheap labor jobs at home and abroad and greatly increasing the real income gap between the wealthy and the general population.

When the right contends that there is no"reliable" scientific information to support an imminent danger from global warming and other man made environmental problems, the scientific evidence that there is both a huge and immediate global environmental crisis is overwhelming

When the right-wing says that the invasion of Iraq was undertaken because of Hussein's relationship to Al Qaeda and his secret development of "weapons of mass destructive, (even they prefer to forget about these statements today) no one should be surprised by the fact (as most of the world pretty much knew in 2003) that Hussein's government had no relationship except one of mutual hostility with Al Qaeda and that the UN inspections that had been going on for years in Iraq were solid evidence that his regime had no weapons of "mass destruction."

Similarly, when the right uses the term "politically correct" to mock opponents of the death penalty and proponents of gun control, it is important to understand that both tgun control policies and the elimination of the death penalty is today the norm in most of the developed world and one result is significantly lower crime rates and much lower violent crime and homicide rates.

Given the power of the right and its control of media (which by the way it constantly berates as "liberal" in order to detract attention from its control) we can't so easily get rid of the term "political correctness," which thanks to the power of U.S. media is now used internationally. But we can perhaps turn the term around and apply it to real politics, showing that "political correctness" in language and policy as defined in the United States in recent years by the right should be used to expose the distortions of reality that the right perpetrates.

Let's start with organized labor, which media largely makes invisible in the U.S. It is "politically correct" to call anti-union shop laws under section 14B of the Taft-Hartley law as "right to work" laws (a pleasant turn) or anti-"closed shop" laws (again something that is positive). Non union workers who are brought in to break strikes and then take the jobs of the striking workers are called "permanent replacement workers" under real political correctness. Now I am not saying that the term "scab" used for more than a century by the labor movement is objective, but "permanent replacement worker" is a very positive term for those who are rewarded for breaking strikes and busting unions.

Labor leaders are still in mass media widely referred to as "union bosses" especially when strikes are going on and corporate leaders, who unlike labor leaders have not been elected by members but by various boards that they often control, are called CEO's (chief executive officers) or merely executives or by their rank in the company. This is real political correctness as applied to class relations.

When workers lose jobs, the politically correct term today is "downsizing," not layoffs, because that is too unpleasant (not that downsizing is so effective, now that the general population associates it with hard times).

Let's look at civil rights. Real political correctness, as practiced by the right, calls affirmative action policies "reverse racism," which the Supreme Court has recently endorsed when it used the 1954 Brown decision to violate school board integration plans. Without planning and policy implementation to redress long-standing social injustices, the injustices will continue in fact in some form even if they have been removed in law, so affirmative action complements rather than contradicts both the spirit and letter of Civil Rights legislation.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany, for example, simply eliminating the Hitlerite race laws that had been used to murder millions and persecute many millions more, was not a solution. The survivors and others victims couldn't simply be left to fend for themselves in a society where the many of the individuals and certainly the non Nazi public and private institutions which had carried out the policies of the fascist state were still in tact, just as the individuals and institutions which sustained Southern de jure segregation were in tact in the U.S. after the 1960s, not to mention the individuals and institutions who practiced de facto racism through the country.

At the time in postwar Germany , by the way, (although I understand that this analogy is by no means very broad and some may disagree with it) many former Nazis, who now defined themselves as "anti-Communist conservatives," contended that while the previous policies of anti-Semitism had not been right and and led to bad things, the present postwar policies of "philosemitism" (portraying Jews as innocent victims of persecution who deserved reparations and other compensations for their suffering) represented the other extreme and was also wrong. Now that Hitler was gone, Germans, particularly the millions who had been active Nazis, could both forget and deny the past and become good "free world" cold warriors.

Where African Americans and other minorities are concerned, the right-wingers who mock criticisms of racist speech and policies in the U.S. today as "political correctness" are essentially saying what those postwar Germans were, albeit in a very different context and, unfortunately, with much more influence in the media. We are neither racists nor anti-racists, and now that segregation is over, we can deny and forget about it, except of course to criticize those who continue to fight racism as advocates of a "double standard" when it comes to minorities (which former Nazis and other German rightists accused "philo-Semites" of having when it came to Jewish people).

There are many other examples of real political correctness (calling the Bush administration's modern day version of the Alien and Sedition Acts the "Patriot Act" calling torture "rendition" and other things, and of course the CIA's classic phrase for killing people, "termination with extreme prejudice"). And these are real political correctness because they are language used to define in a distorted way real political policies by agencies of government with real political power

At a time when the right uses a wildly propagandistic distortion of language to caricature its critics, and then projects in the Freudian sense through the term political correctness what it is doing onto its critics, it is time that the left begin to actively expose the distortions and outright lies that permeate mass media, identify their origins and political purposes, and move to the offensive in the battle of ideas which inform politics.

Norman Markowitz

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