Politics & Policy

American Groupspeak

Here are some reminders about what to keep quiet about.

Juan Williams was just fired from NPR. His sin? He confessed to occasional anxiety when people in Muslim garb board airplanes, and then went on to explain why stereotyping is wrong.

The fate of Williams reminds us that Americans have developed two personas — one public and politically correct, the other private. Mix the two and big trouble ensues.

Here are some reminders about what to keep quiet about.

Don’t discuss the deficit. Instead, call borrowing “stimulus.” Trillions are not much different from billions. Debt can be paid back with more borrowing and someone else’s higher taxes. Ignore the lessons of Greece and California. To appear noble, call for more unemployment benefits, free medical care, and more entitlements. To sound cruel, complain about borrowing to pay for them.

Keep silent about Social Security and Medicare. If the system is insolvent, it cannot be because we are living longer, retiring earlier (often taking out more than we paid into the pot), abusing disability provisions, or facing an aging and soon-to-be-shrinking population. Instead, rail at fat cats who need to pay more payroll taxes and at wasteful programs like defense that can be cut to ensure more for the elderly and needy. The checks will always come in time, and “they” will always pay for them.

Most Americans choose to be called “cowards” by Attorney General Eric Holder rather than accept his invitation to talk about race on his terms. The NAACP has accused the Tea Party of racist views. The tea-partiers’ anger over high taxes, debt, and big government warrants more concern among the Beltway’s black leadership than the inordinately high incidences of crime, incarceration, one-parent homes, and failure to graduate from high school. Whatever one’s private views, groupspeak requires that answers are found outside, not inside, the black community — and that more programs and more federal money are held up as the solution.

Closing the border is a taboo subject. Also taboo is the phrase “illegal alien.” Speak about the need for social justice, not the enforcement of mere laws. Illegal aliens broke no real law when enticed northward by greedy employers. That is why the secretary of labor released a video calling for workers to report employer abuses — whether the workers are “documented or not.” Passing laws to subvert federal immigration statutes, such as “sanctuary city” legislation, is commendable. Passing laws to enforce federal immigration statutes earns a lawsuit and condemnation by the president of Mexico from the White House lawn. Ask Arizona.

Don’t get caught up in discussing global warming. If you must go there, employ the term “climate change,” so that anything from a tornado to a blizzard can be blamed on man-caused carbon emissions. Instead of citing recent doctored research or the inconsistencies in Al Gore’s advocacy, just mention that Sarah Palin denies climate change.

Do not, under any circumstances, associate global terrorism with Islam — despite the countless terrorist operations that have been carried out worldwide by Muslims since Sept. 11, 2001. If Muslims must be mentioned, it should be only in the context of saying that a tiny number, without support and often because of past oppression, commit terrorist actions — earning the furor of the Muslim community at large. Do not end up like Juan Williams of NPR, who was fired for his candid remarks. For insurance, talk ad nauseam about Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing as proof that white male Christians are as likely to blow things up.

Do not weigh in on gay marriage. Millions of Neanderthals have voted to oppose it; a few sophisticated judges have overturned bans on it. Don’t talk positively about traditional marriage and the special and historical relationship between a man and a woman; that is code for homophobia.

Lay off the university. It hikes tuition costs higher than the rate of inflation. It exploits part-time teachers while clinging to archaic notions like tenure. It cannot guarantee that its graduates are competent in either reading or math — or that they will even find a job these days. And it shuns true diversity of thought. Yet if you question its budgets, hiring practices, political tolerance, or affirmative action, you will be dubbed anti-intellectual, racist, and cold-heartedly against letting someone be all that he can be.

We do not quite know how Americans will vote next week, in part because citizens fear to talk openly about their concerns and instead employ groupspeak. We suspect that in the privacy of the voting booth, they may prove angrier and more frustrated than we think.

But why should they not, when they know that candor and honesty can earn a presidential lecture, a firing, or a lawsuit?

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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