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Sense and sensitivity

The business of being politically correct

With the presidential campaign gaining in intensity, Republican challengers seem bent on setting new records for political incorrectness. On one level, we owe them a vote of thanks: The protocol of political correctness has become so rigid that it has all but strangled candid discourse on many issues. We’ve all taken refuge in convenient euphemisms and hypocrisies.

Gov. Rick Perry has a solid record on civil rights, yet one wonders why the family hung out at a hunting camp known locally as the Niggerhead pasture. The response of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” was to vent a long list of remote places in the U.S. that boasted politically incorrect names (is there really a Chink’s Peak?)

All hell broke loose on the Berkeley campus when a student Republican club staged a bake sale to parody rules driving diversity (Caucasian cookies, whatever they are, sold at twice the price of African-American cookies). The college Republicans insisted they were protesting decisions based on race or gender.

I resent racist slurs and ethnic put-downs, but I also worry that it’s difficult to confront these issues without both calm and candor.

In Hollywood, discussions of diversity take place behind a wall of political correctness. Surveys show that minorities occupy between 12% and 14% in job categories ranging from grips to showrunners, and the numbers aren’t changing. The small number of African-American TV writers quietly complain that they are usually assigned to segments representing the black community rather than being encouraged to roam across the ethnic landscape.

Issues of this sort aren’t talked about publicly, lest the wrath of the human resources bureaucrats be incurred.

Political correctness also exerts a tyranny in the area of college admissions. Gov. Jerry Brown last week vetoed a bill that would allow state universities in California the right to consider race, gender and income in admissions policies. The push for greater openness stemmed from several concerns. With the economy worsening, some officials advocate more aggressive recruitment of black students. Some also fear the growing pressure from students from the Asian countries and from India.

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal last week, it is common for parents in South Korea to enroll their offspring in expensive after-school academies called hagwons. Indeed, the trend has spurred an anti-hagwon movement of activists who are loudly reminding parents that “students are supposed to sleep and take care of themselves.”

In any event, educators testify that there’s no way Middle America will be able to defend itself against Middle Asia unless issues of ethnicity are faced more aggressively at the university level.

Given this atmosphere, the media can be counted upon to jump upon any impromptu display of political incorrectness, however bizarre the source. Hank Williams Jr., a country singer not renowned for his sentence structure but known for writing and singing the “Monday Night Football” theme song, got himself tied up in an abstraction involving Obama, Hitler and Netanyahu, and was rewarded with national exposure. Disney’s ESPN, which airs “MNF,” fired him, but he made an appearance on Disney’s ABC talker “The View.” Herman Cain, the pizza king, suggests that unemployed folks somehow deserve their fate, an evangelical preacher asserts Mormons are not Christians and Mitt Romney confides to audiences that “corporations are people, too.”

I guess what bothers me is not the political incorrectness — it’s just that everyone is all wrong about everything.

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