13 Sep 2008

McCain: Fighting PC With PC

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Bruce Heiden, who teaches Classics at Ohio State and is blogging as PostLiberal, explains how the McCain campaign’s fuss over the Obama “lipstick on a pig” remark wasn’t simply whining, but a kind of tactical campaign parody designed to highlight political correctness in general to the disadvantage of the democrat candidate.

The reason Team McCain went whiny this week, I believe, is that they saw in Obama’s “pig” remark an opportunity to smoke out an issue that is very important to the Obama campaign and indeed to the nation at this time. The issue is neither sexism nor offensive speech. The issue is Political Correctness. Political Correctness is the Donkey In The Room in the 2008 Presidential campaign, because Political Correctness is both the sole rationale for Barack Obama’s candidacy (as an alternative to, say, Hillary Clinton’s) and an issue that he alone of the candidates can claim. …

All throughout the spring, as political operatives and experts who had declared Obama inevitable tried to deny that Hillary Clinton had put him on the ropes, we heard in interviews about the supposed “difficulty” of running against Barack Obama. For most citizens this commentary was “analysis,” but for John McCain it was business of the most practical sort, because unlike the rest of us John McCain is in the unique position of actually running against Obama, and if there is a difficulty involved in running against Obama one of McCain’s fundamental tasks is to overcome it. If he doesn’t, he will lose.

So what was the difficulty of running against Obama supposed to be? What it amounted to was this: the public, or anyway all of it living in cafes instead of caves, allegedly felt a certain adoration of Obama that had nothing in particular to do with “issues”; and therefore the public did not want to hear Obama criticized on the issues, not to mention on other grounds. The basis for the public’s alleged love affair with Obama was not exclusively his ethnicity, but more importantly his charm, seriousness, and potential to inaugurate an era of racial harmony devoutly to be wished. Obama was, in short, No Ordinary Candidate, and an ordinary opponent foolish enough to treat Obama like an ordinary candidate would find–or so the experts predicted–that all arguments against Obama would rebound fatally upon the opponents, because the public did not want to hear Obama brought down to the level of ordinary politicians. If anyone tried it, the public would think–indeed, the public would realize–that the opponent was opposing not just a candidate but the bright future of racial harmony itself. And anyone who would do that might well be a racist, especially since the candidate they were so unfairly opposing was African-American.

Hence, according to the commentators, campaigning against Obama would be “difficult” for a politician to do. What they really meant is that it would be impossible, and that they would make it so, because in “doing their jobs” as journalists and expert commentators they would have the solemn responsibility of enforcing rules of discourse that would fix the campaigning in Obama’s favor and deprive the American voters of an open democratic discussion and freely made decision.

The fundamental task confronting a candidate running against Obama, therefore, is simply that of asserting the people’s right to have a campaign, instead of the parade the Obamacrats had concluded was their entitlement. Obama’s opponent must establish the democratic right to say out loud that the Emperor has no clothes, and to establish the right of the people to hear it, whether they want to or not; because that, Norman Lear, is the American Way. Moreover some voters do want to hear it, and others who think they don’t will be glad to have the alternative perspective once they have the chance. McCain has already changed minds in this election, but to do it he had to violate the speech code. The offensive words that sounded like drills in the ears of liberals were these: “Sarah Palin.” Among the other things liberals said about her, they said that McCain had offended women merely by putting her on the ticket. Now that’s what I would call hypersensitivity, if I didn’t know how disingenuous it really was.

Yes, Team McCain is disingenuous in slamming Obama over sexism, but precisely this transparent disingenuousnesss makes their real charge against Obama stronger instead of weaker, because the charge is that of trying to win the Presidency by imposing upon the campaigns a speech code that would shield Obama from legitimate and tough criticism. McCain’s issue here is not sexism but Political Correctess, and disingenuousness is constitutive of Political Correctness, which could be defined as disingenuous allegations that feelings have been injured by insensitive (i.e. unintentionally offensive) speech or conduct. Team McCain’s whining is a caricature of PC, but it will stick to Obama and not McCain, because everybody already knows that Obama’s campaign has been powered by PC since day one and would ride it to the White House if allowed. The Obamacrats don’t like finger pointing? Look who’s talking!

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Daniel Lowenstein.

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