The XX Factor

Can We Retire “Political Correctness” Yet?

For at least two decades now, whining about the oppression of political correctness has been a powerful recruiting tool for the right. Rush Limbaugh and his countless imitators have had a smashing success in painting a picture of liberals as a bunch of finger-shaking schoolmarms depriving red-blooded American white men of their God-given right to use racist, sexist, ableist, and homophobic language without risking criticism from the uptight, effeminate left. It was deafening, the weeping and wailing about out-of-control language-Nazis oppressing the conservative male with lip snarls and eye rolls when he merely wants to say something vicious towards disempowered groups. But now, of course, the biggest finger-shaking schoolmarm in the nation is apparently Sarah Palin , on the warpath against the improper use of the word “retard,” and you have to wonder how the right that worships her will reconcile the cognitive dissonance.

The latest offenders who are no doubt squealing with glee about annoying a censorious authority figure is Seth MacFarlane and the writing staff of Family Guy , who made fun of mentally disabled people and specifically of the Palin family for having a member who has Down syndrome. If Palin were a Democrat, there would be no question of how this would be spun. The shock-jock, right-wing establishment would immediately snap into place, protecting the right of white guys like MacFarlane to act like junior-high-school kids who think it’s “daring” to make fun of disempowered people, instead of turning their satirical eye toward the mighty. But, of course, Palin is on Team Conservative, and so this has to play out a little differently. Now that conservatives officially have embraced political correctness along with liberals, can we just stop playing the game of shaming people for having basic decency?

The answer is, “possibly.” Palin, who is not known for being consistent about her outrage, broke out of character to shame Rush Limbaugh for using the word “retard.” Cynics might point out she’s trying to snatch his throne, but I do think that many conservatives have consistently demonstrated that when the disempowered are members of their own family, they suddenly grow a conscience on that particular issue. Arlen Specter’s battles with cancer made him break against the Republicans to support stem-cell research. Dick Cheney’s own daughter is gay, and while he’s too much of a political coward to issue full-throated support for gay rights, he’s come out in favor of gays in the military and always tepidly supported gay marriage rights. So I do think Palin’s offense is sincere. Though I’m sure she’s still fine with political incorrectness, as long as it’s not aimed at her family.