Saturday, February 6, 2010

Politically Correct Politics

White house chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel called some fellow Democrats retarded. Palin called for his resignation. Then Rush used the term and she demured. Now he says this, which to anyone who has ever listened to the pompous bastard speak is nothing if not mild:
I think the big news is the crackup going on. Our politically correct society is acting like some giant insult has taken place by calling a bunch of people who are retards, retards.

I mean, these liberal activists are kooks. They are loony tunes. And I'm not going to apologize for it, I'm just quoting Emanuel. It's in the news. I think the news is that he's out there calling Obama's number one supporters effing retards. So now there's going to be a meeting. There's going to be a retard summit at the White House, much like the beer summit between Obama and Gates and that cop in Cambridge.*
I don’t know. I mean, he’s being “politically incorrect”. It’s a term (PC) I loathe, not least because of its ineffability (where do we draw the line, n###er? And why there?). But because ironically it is so often used as a cudgel against legitimate appeals to compassion and/or tolerance. Yes, son, there are things you shouldn’t say. It isn’t a matter of free speech. It’s a matter of respect. You could just as easily express your thoughts in a more appropriate manner.

But at the same time there is a danger in going the other direction. One risks missing out on a certain ribald good-naturedness that only exists in this gray zone between oughts and ought-nots. Here, intent is paramount and context essential. There definitely is something “retarded” about certain behavior that has nothing to do with poking fun at mental retardation, and everything to do with attempting to depict a truth.

I once got in trouble with a friend who he argued that Obama not to be allowed to speak to public school students (yeah, remember that? ). I said I thought his idea was retarded. Maybe if his son was retarded I wouldn’t have said it. Maybe I should have chosen my words more carefully. But was there a better word? As a literal interpretation, you could make a pretty strong case that the idea was indeed philosophically and politically retarded. It was socially retarded. It was dumb. It was idiotic. It was ignorant and insane.

Words have meaning. But that meaning is often dependent upon context. When I read Rush’s transcript I related to his sentiment. I’m fine with us all agreeing that the term is too offensive to use. I try not to say “Hell” around Christians. Good for Sarah Palin if she wants Ramn to shut his Damned mouth. Maybe all of us who sometimes blithely step over the line are being a bit too boorish. But we can discuss these things reasonably. We can recognize the decency in one another while at the same time attempting to see the truth they attempt to reveal.

*putting aside for a moment the simple fact that the "retards" in question are actually the conservative members of the party.  Kind of a... umm... "retarded" thing to say.

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