Saturday, October 18, 2014

Is There Political Correctness on the Right?

I can think of at least three occasions in recent years when someone prominent made a statement inconsistent with left wing orthodoxy, was fiercely attacked for it, and forced in one sense or another to back down. In each case the statement was, as best I can tell, a defensible one. One involved a Nobel Prize winning scientist, one the president of a top university, the most recent a best selling author.

Are there any similar cases involving right wing political correctness? The question isn't whether there are any beliefs that are orthodoxy on the right—surely there are. It is whether there are cases of someone prominent making a defensible statement that violates such an orthodoxy and being attacked for it so fiercely that he was forced to publicly retract it, resign from a prominent position, or both. I'm not counting cases of conservative politicians backing down from statements that offended their supporters, since that's a different pattern and one that occurs across the political spectrum.


Steve said...

Michelle Obama:

Anonymous said...

How about all the heat Warren Buffett got for noting that his tax rate is less than his secretary's and that if there's class warfare going on, the very wealthy are winning.

He violated the PC of the reactionary right, and was promptly labeled a "socialist" (!) by some of the more asinine right-wingers.

chriscal12 said...

Two big PC issues on the right are how we talk about US soldiers, and how we talk about certain historical figures (e.g., the founding fathers, Columbus).

Jon Stewart once called Harry Truman a war criminal on the Daily Show. After a large flak, he retracted his statement and apologized rather meekly.

Here's The Nation's take:

Steve said...

Two other possibilities: Norman Finkelstein lost his bid for tenure at DePaul due to his remarks on Israel.

And (this one's a stretch) Ward Churchill lost his job at the University of Colorado. He lost it, fairly, for research misconduct, but the only reason anyone looked into his research was because of his "little Eichmanns" remark about 9/11. But then I'm not sure that "Don't stupidly insult murder victims" is so much a tenet of the right as it is of decent human beings.

David Friedman said...

I don't think the Buffett case qualifies since, as far as I know, Buffett didn't retract and apologize.

The Stewart case comes closer. Without having followed that one, I can't tell if Stewart really thought his statement was wrong or was simply backing down under pressure.

I don't think the Michelle Obama case qualifies, because I would classify her as a politician, only if by marriage.

Anonymous said...

And the Churchill and Finkelstein statements were hardly defensible.

Anonymous said...

Remember the Dixie Chicks?

Anonymous said...

What is the supposed right wing orthodoxy that the Dixie Chicks contradicted? That we should invade Iraq? It seems incorrect to say that was a right wing orthodoxy when 39% of Democrats voted to authorize the war.

Perhaps if viewed as a breach of a duty of loyalty, since the statements were made overseas, that example could qualify.

Anonymous said...

The right wing orthodoxy is that when the nation has military troops in combat, questioning the Commander-in-Chief in any way is tantamount to treason.

That reactionary PC doesn't apply to Obama.

chriscal12 said...

I recall from watching Stewart's tone in the initial statement, and then the retraction, that he seemed clearly to have been backing down under pressure. I could be wrong though. I'll try to find the clips.

chriscal12 said...

Here's the retraction:

Unknown said...

How about Bill Maher's comments after 9/11 in which he denied that the terrorist attackers were cowards?

"We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly."

This seems to me to be an entirely defensible statement, but there was a huge public backlash, eventually leading to Maher's show being cancelled.

Anonymous said...

Less than 100% support for Israel. Here in Australia, politicians rarely question ongoing settlement building lest than are accused of anti-semitism.

Amusingly, the accusers are usually not even Jewish. Kind of like the way race warriors are usually white.

kzndr said...

One possibility that comes to mind is Chris Hayes apologizing for casting doubt on the notion that all American soldiers who have died are heroes:

Anonymous said...

Bruce Bartlett?

David Friedman said...

As best I can tell by a quick Google, the Dixie Chicks did not retract their statements and went on to have a successful career.

The Maher case looks like a good candidate. I agree it was a reasonable statement, if imprudent, and having his show cancelled meets the rest of my requirements.

My one reservation is that I think patriotism of the sort he offended cuts pretty much across party lines. According to the Wikipedia article, he made the statement on his show in agreement with a very conservative guest.

Jay Maynard said...

The problem I have with these examples is that they are pretty much not cases of apostasy on the part of conservatives. The cases you cite of left-wing orthodoxy and causing people to have to back down are all of folks to the left of center.

Fred Mangels said...

David wrote, "My one reservation is that I think patriotism of the sort he offended cuts pretty much across party lines."

That's what I was thinking.

bruce said...

Hard to see Ward Churchill, Jon Stewart, Warren Buffet, or the Obamas as conservatives. The Democrats have been the dominant party in the US since 1932. In that time JFK broke US Steel, Nader's Raiders cut Detroit's Big Three down from world dominance, Jimmy Carter's judge broke Bell Labs, Bill Clinton took a couple hundred million from Microsoft's competitors to sic the Justice Department on Microsoft and break the Dotcom boom, and so on. Not a record you can defend. Better for an aging, corrupt, feckless establishment to double down on orthodoxy-sniffing.

BC said...

Perhaps, there is just more self-censorship in not offending the Right? We haven't heard all the potentially offensive but defensible comments that people could have made. Also, both the media and academia are Left-leaning so cases of Left-enforced PC are done in a very high-profile manner. Perhaps, Right-enforced PC happens in the form of refraining from speaking openly in private among Right-leaning but non-media and non-academic folks. I'm thinking here of things one might not say in the presence of religious conservatives, in the South, among social conservatives, etc.

David Friedman said...

BC: The evidence against your conjecture is provided by libertarians. My father, I, the Koch brothers, lots of others take positions such as support for legalizing drugs and freer immigration that most conservatives oppose. In my experience we don't get ferociously attacked for doing so.

Bruce: My wife's comment on the question you mention was that in the months immediately after 9/11, that sort of patriotism cut across partly lines, but that thereafter it did divide red/blue.

Jay: One of my examples (not stated) was Watson's comment on Africa. He wasn't politically left so far as I know. The most recent case was John Grisham, and I don't know what his politics are.

Lawrence Summers fits your case at least to the extent of having worked in Democratic administrations.

Daublin said...

The Dixie Chicks are close, but where did they apologize? They just switched camps.

They stopped attracting conservative listeners (which was all of them), and they got a spike of income from progressive listeners forcing themselves to try and like their style of music.

It's an open question whether that will sustain itself. Myself, I know I feel dirty now, having been pressured to try and like this music. There are many progressives that fight for their party on all fronts.

Joey said...

Perhaps, there is just more self-censorship in not offending the Right? We haven't heard all the potentially offensive but defensible comments that people could have made.

That doesn't explain why there seem to be fewer denunciations coming from the right than from the left.

Sure, maybe Conservatives tend to have more homogenous views and are more harmonious than the left, but why is it always the left criticizing the dissenters on non policy-related topics?

Power Child said...

Most commenters here have an overly simplistic view of liberal/conservative politics. Neither side is monolithic, but while that sounds dismissive, you can easily gain back some clarity by simply distinguishing between liberals and people who vote Democrat, and then between conservatives and neoconservatives. In each case, one subdivision is more representative of "elites" (liberals, neoconservatives) while the other is more representative of "the masses" (people who vote Democrat, conservatives). Taken as four distinct groups, you can see that their collections of views are equally distinct.

What you also see is that three of the four groups I mentioned frequently demand apologies for breaches of their own orthodoxy, even from people who never claimed to subscribe to it in the first place. (Yes, neocons demand apologies too, typically for something having to do with Israel or Jews.)

The fourth group, who don't do this, is conservatives. I suspect the reason is simply that it is not in their nature to do so. Indeed, I notice that in general it's uncommon for white gentiles (who make up the vast bulk of conservatives) to go around demanding apologies from people. They're also the people most likely to have an apology demanded of them.

kudzu bob said...

Are there any similar cases involving right wing political correctness?

For the benefit of those who have been living at the South Pole or stranded on a Pacific atoll for the last few years, here are some others:

John Derbyshire, fired from National Review.

Sam Francis, fired from the Washington Times.

Jason Richwine, fired from the Heritage Foundation.

Ann Coulter, fired from National

Kevin Lamb, fired from Human Events.

Robert Weissberg, fired from National Review.

Paul Gottfried, tossed out of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Ron Unz, fired from The American Conservative.

Lawrence Auster, fired from FrontPage Magazine

David Friedman said...

Kudzu Bob:

What I wrote was:

"It is whether there are cases of someone prominent making a defensible statement that violates such an orthodoxy and being attacked for it so fiercely that he was forced to publicly retract it, resign from a prominent position, or both."

Someone being fired for taking a position his employer disapproves of doesn't meet those conditions. Being fired is neither resigning nor retracting.

kudzu bob said...

You're quibbling. As you doubtless know, being forced to resign means that a worker doesn't have to explain to future employers why he was fired, nothing more.

William said...

@kudzu bob:

Even without "quibbling," the first two of your examples that I chose to check, Ann Coulter and John Derbyshire and their respective divorces from National Review, clearly do not qualify under even the most charitable view of those episodes. Perhaps you would like to back up your assertions by restating or even alluding to the "defensible statements" made by the individuals in your list that you believe led to their firing and the conservative orthodoxy they supposedly violated.

Otherwise, given the absence of any specifics from your list other than names of purportedly conservative individuals, the organizations they were formerly associated with, and the assertion that they were fired, the presumption is that those were the only three criteria used to compile your list.

bruce said...

Google "the egregious Frum + Jerry Pournelle" for Jerry Pournelle's view of David Frum's effort to purge conservatives who opposed the Iraq war.

Bob Murphy said...


It doesn't really fit your criteria, but FWIW I distinctly remember thinking that Glenn Beck personally got Van Jones to resign early in the Obama Administration, and thinking that in some respects Beck wielded power the way Jesse Jackson did if someone in a Republican administration said something racist.

Power Child said...

@kudzu bob:

I'm familiar with the John Derbyshire incident. I read his "The Other Talk" article, too. I don't think it qualifies, and here's why:

John Derbyshire violated liberal PC etiquette that National Review had adopted in its drift leftward. He didn't violate any conservative principles.

And yes, William, his statements were defensible. He defended them as he gave them, and continued to defend them afterwards, also pointing to news stories that continually vindicate his statements.

Ultimate Philosopher said...

i recognize larry summers but who are the nobel laureate and the best-sellign author? i thought what happened to summers given what he said was pretty vile, btw.

David Friedman said...

James Watson is the Nobel prize winner. I've already forgotten the best selling author, but he said something about the punishment for possession of child porn being unreasonably drastic and got ferociously attacked for it.

Mark Bahner said...

"i thought what happened to summers given what he said was pretty vile, btw."

Amazing. Are you referring to this speech? What did he say in this speech that was "pretty vile"?