A different kind of political correctness


Paul Krugman picks up on a trend that’s quietly becoming more common: “right-wing political correctness.” As Krugman explained it, the goal is “to make it impossible to talk, and possibly even think, about ideas that challenge the established order.”

Thus, even talking about “the wealthy” brings angry denunciations; we’re supposed to call them “job creators.” Even talking about inequality is “class warfare.”

And then there’s the teaching of history. Eric Rauchway has a great post about attacks on the history curriculum, in which even talking about “immigration and ethnicity” or “environmental history” becomes part of a left-wing conspiracy. As he says, he’ll name his new course “US History: The Awesomeness of Awesome Americans.” That, after all, seems to be the only safe kind of thing to say.

Looking back at political correctness and its impact on the public discourse, it’s probably safe to say those on the left were far more heavily invested in the cause – the point was to make language more respectful and tolerant of diversity, while discouraging use of bigoted slurs.

But Krugman has a point when he says there’s new strand of political correctness that urges Americans not to avoid saying things that might hurt conservatives’ feelings, but to choose the phrasing that the right prefers. Even the “fat cat” label apparently makes the very wealthy feel put upon, so we’re not supposed to say it.

Mitt Romney has gone so far as to say we’re allowed to mention economic inequality, but the discussions must be limited to “quiet rooms” – where, presumably, rich people won’t be offended.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of conservative political correctness came about three years ago.

A few months into the Obama presidency, the Department of Homeland Security released reports about ideological extremists, alerting officials to potentially violent groups and organizations. Republicans and conservative activists were apoplectic – even though the report was commissioned by the Bush administration, mainstream conservatives decided concerns about violent radicals attacking Americans may have been referencing them. Analysis of domestic threats was ultimately curtailed as a result.

It seemed hard to imagine 20 years ago that political correctness would shift like this, but here we are.