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The political correctness police were out in force recently, correctly censuring Larry Wilmore for his use of the N-word and insanely condemning Hillary Clinton for uttering the words “off the reservation,” perceived as demeaning to Native Americans.
Starting with Mrs. Clinton’s turn of phrase, we might as well excise from the the lexicon of acceptability words such as “nosy” because it might offend people with large noses, “insightful” as insulting to myopics, “high-minded” as defamatory of marijuana users, and “thin skinned” for denigrating hemophiliacs. If we want to find reason for taking offense, we can find it everywhere.
The more noteworthy incident was Larry Wilmore’s use of the N-word at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, and his directing it toward the President of the United States, no less. Clearly the remark was intended to be affectionate and laudatory, which is how it was taken — without offense.
But that’s not really the point. In a society that is growing simultaneously disrespectful and intolerant of disrespectful speech, we need to elevate public discourse, not sink deeper into the gutter. If the N-word is too offensive to be broadcast — even news anchors reporting the story weren’t permitted to repeat it in quotation marks — then it is certainly unacceptable to be used in the presence of our president or, even worse, said to him.
Frankly, I’m more concerned by the use of President Obama’s first name, and his nickname at that. Maybe Mr. Obama and Mr. Wilmore are on a first-name basis. But in a formal context, such familiarity is utterly disrespectful from anyone other than a spouse, parent, or sibling.
This is the real threat of political correctness. It’s not just that we take offense in all the wrong places. It’s that we lose all sensitivity for the difference between what is respectful and what is disrespectful, we lose all sense of priorities, and we forget that refinement is a value. Nothing matters except the applause, the laugh, the ratings, and the votes.
This is why the same people who took offense at Mrs. Clinton’s use of “off the reservation” have no reservations about her pathological pattern of telling lies and misrepresenting political adversaries.
This is why our political and social institutions are in chaos.
And this is what we are teaching our children.