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viewpoint

Political correctness? No, politeness

| Monday, March 21, 2016

The campaign for the 2016 presidential election has been defined by candidates on both sides criticizing facets of American society that we see today. The disintegration of family values, the social liberalism (or conservatism) of many Americans, the inability to have civilized dialogue, the list goes on and on. One of the biggest problems that many candidates (specifically Republicans) have pointed out is the idea of “political correctness” that supposedly permeates throughout every interaction Americans have. Numerous Republican candidates have railed against it, calling it an assault on the idea of free speech, our country’s ideals and the ability of all people to speak their minds freely.

To be honest, the term “political correctness” has been thrown around quite loosely by candidates. It seems as if when they disagree with the way a situation has been handled, they rail against it as being a result of a politically correct society. Ben Carson defended waterboarding as not giving into political correctness in war. Ted Cruz said that political correctness contributed to the terror attacks in 2015. Donald Trump railed against it in defending his proposal to kill the families of terrorists. So is political correctness really dismantling our country?

For full disclosure, I wrote an article earlier this year defending the idea of free speech, regardless of the harm it may inflict on people. I’m a firm believer that people should be allowed to say what they think in our country; it’s what makes America great. During this election season, however, the idea of political correctness has been used far too broadly and improperly. Becoming politically incorrect has become the norm, but that’s turned into something else. It’s reduced the civility of discourse in our country, changed the entire nature of political debate and made our leaders look significantly less than what they should be.

In a speech during the dying days of his campaign, Marco Rubio said, “We have to get rid of this idea that just being polite is being politically correct.” It seemed as if Marco realized what had been infecting the Republican Party for much of this election cycle. So many of the candidates were eager to break through the barriers of political correctness that they were doing other things that were unfit for people who are supposed to be leaders of our country. All of the Republican candidates were pulled into the dirt by slinging insults, calling names and making jokes about other candidates.

The question is not about whether or not political incorrectness should be allowed. It surely should be, as disallowing it undermines one of the very freedoms that all people in the world deserve to have. But that doesn’t mean that political correctness is wrong at its core. The idea of political correctness isn’t supposed to be used to muzzle every opinion that any person has. At its base, political correctness is an extreme form of politeness. Yes, it may be difficult and seem unnecessary to watch what you say out of fear of offending someone. But trying to be politically correct means that a person is conscious of another’s background, feelings and emotions. Might that be sappy? Sure. Do you have to try to be politically correct all the time? Absolutely not. But being politically correct doesn’t make you weak. It makes you polite, civil and conscious of other people.

Political correctness can have its problems. It can cause people to refrain from speaking their minds, restraining their viewpoints and being afraid of speaking. And politics doesn’t need that. Politicians should be speaking their minds so that citizens can truly understand what they believe. But politicians shouldn’t throw it entirely out of the window. Our leaders need to be able to speak their minds, but they also need to be polite. That’s the only time politics works. “Combating political correctness” shouldn’t be what politicians hide behind in order to say offensive things. Because at its core, that’s not being politically incorrect; it’s being impolite. And America could always use more politeness.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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