Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Radical Self-Care

A friend of mine has stopped reading or watching the news. Another friend tells me that he can no longer listen to Democracy Now. He gets too upset. I know the feeling. If I spend too much time surfing political blogs and news sites, eventually I feel it coming over me: a sickening feeling of rage, fear, and powerlessness. What’s a progressive to do?

There’s no doubt about it. These are difficult times. The political situation has never been worse in my lifetime. In peace movement terms, for instance, the establishment has done its best to make itself immune to protests and demonstrations. The media generally ignores them. And so do the politicians. Even though the polls indicate that the people are against the war, the corporate political structure blithely disregards public opinion, and the war continues. You can hardly blame the average peace activist for getting discouraged once in awhile.

More ominously, the government line has become increasingly extreme under the torturer Bush and his associates. A lot of things that used to be beyond the pale are now in the process of being accepted as standard by the state—a steady creep towards a 21st century version of fascism has in fact become more and more evident.

To notice that the country, and the world, is becoming more dangerous is not to confine ourselves to matters of physical or civil security. We can worry about being spied on, censored, jailed, tortured, or blown up—not that worrying will do us any good. I would argue, however, that dangers can also arise from within ourselves, dangers that are preventable. They are depression, paralyzing fear, obsessive anger and rage, fatalism, resignation, cynicism, and unhappiness.

I’ve often thought about this, and in my calmer moments I have arrived at a little bit of wisdom that I hope you will find helpful.

First and foremost, I believe that it’s important to steadily focus attention on your values. Think about what they are, for one thing. If you’re against certain ideas and policies, ask yourself why. Being against something implies that we are for something different. Why, for instance, do I oppose all torture? It’s because I believe in love, compassion, gentleness, and respect. To abuse a helpless person, no matter who it is, violates these core values. I am comfortable with this basic sense of humanity, this sense of decency. I can spot cruelty when I see it, either in action or in attitude, because I have experienced the opposite of cruelty in myself and in the actions of people I love and respect. I also know that a potential for cruelty exists in me, and I consider it important for my own well-being not to indulge that aspect.

This is not just about beliefs or ideas, but about how I experience being human, and what that means to me. I think true spirituality is our way of accessing this deeper sense of being, but even those progressives who are allergic to any mention of spirituality will surely concede that they have some inward sense of truth—otherwise they wouldn’t care about justice. We need to be conscious of this inward sense, be comfortable with it, and ultimately be sustained by it.

In the 60s and 70s we used to quote Che Guevara; who said “the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” Regardless of what you may think about Che Guevara (for the record, I am deeply skeptical when it comes to Marxism), there’s something in this quote that is very important. Anger is such a potent force that we are easily sidetracked by it, and we become absorbed by what I call “enemy mind.” It all becomes about hating the enemy. Eventually you forget about why you were outraged in the first place, and you get eaten up by this anger and hatred, and it makes you politically impotent. You’ve lost your guide, which is love. Quite simply, being radical or progressive is about loving people and wanting happiness and well-being for them.

I’m not talking about loving your enemy. That can be a powerful spiritual experience, but it’s not granted to most of us to be Jesus or Gandhi, and therefore it’s not politically practical. Besides, a certain degree of outrage and anger is appropriate in order to spark change. If I’m not indignant when I see a fellow human starved or beaten or neglected by the powerful and greedy, then there’s something lacking in me.

No, I mean love of humanity in general, and for specific suffering people in particular. That’s the motivator and the guide. And it’s a source of strength. When you allow yourself to be conscious of that within yourself, your action isn’t frustrated or guilty. It’s genuine and real.

Another aspect of staying focused on your values is to see through the dominant double-talk and not be either confused or dismayed by it. This can be hard, because the Orwellian language now prevalent in the public discourse is a violation of our sense and reason. To see through it, you must ask yourself what words like “freedom,” or “democracy” or “peace” really mean to you. The clearer you are about this, the easier it is to spot when the words are used to mean their opposites. Immediately questioning this use is a good tool—Socrates knew a thing or two about change, and calmly questioning assumptions often accomplishes much more than directly attacking. Regardless of what effect it may have out there, the important thing is that you stay centered. That old saying about sticks and stones may seem hackneyed, but there’s some wisdom there. If someone uses words to try to wound me, it only works if I allow it to. My advantage is that I know words are just tools—I don’t have to be caught up in what other people make of them.

Another important thing, and here I’m taking a page from the anarchists, is to enjoy yourself in the moment. If all you’re doing is working towards a future goal—peace, a just society, whatever—and you’re miserable until you get there, that’s really just a mirror image of the corporate rat race, isn’t it? Always striving for some fulfillment that isn’t here yet, never feeling okay right now—that’s no way to live. The forces arrayed against us are huge—greed and the power principle aren’t going down without a protracted struggle—so it’s all too easy to get burnt out and despondent, wishing for a victory that seems forever elusive. I think working for change is much more effective when the people doing it are having fun, being happy as far as that may be possible on a given day, and therefore having more energy, which spreads more readily to others.

So in practical terms: make love, enjoy friends and food, exercise and play, laugh and express joy. In fact, express the full range of feelings, which includes the so-called negative ones like sadness and grief, because this is part of the intensity of living. If you have issues, work on them. The idea that there’s a contradiction between personal change and social change is bullshit. Just avoid extremes on one side or the other. If all you do is “work on yourself” and ignore what’s going on in the world, you can end up a shallow narcissist. If all you do is political action, you can end up a psychological mess, not dealing with your own shit and therefore inflicting it on others.

If you find yourself getting too wound up about the news, take a break. I listen to Democracy Now, but not every day. I don’t need to read every blog to figure out that Bush is a creep. Sometimes I need to take a walk instead.

Anyone who has read my articles knows that I love sarcasm, satire, and savage indignation. There’s nothing wrong with this in principle, but from time to time I have to step back and look at the big picture, recognize the principles involved, and appreciate the stakes. The real problems are systemic—the names may change, but the forces remain the same.

Of all the internal threats we face, I think fear is the most dangerous. It’s obvious that the self-appointed rulers want us to be in a state of fear—the war of terror is being waged against us, after all. Look down with humor on the fear-mongers. See them for the weak little creatures they are. Courage isn’t some mystical macho attitude. It means feeling secure enough in myself to stand up and say what I need to say, do what I need to do. What’s the worst that can happen? It would probably happen anyway if I did nothing. I choose self-respect rather than trying to hide and not be noticed. Fuck it. I’d rather stand with Gandhi and Malcolm and MLK, even though all those guys got shot, then to be a miserable pathetic coward like Dick Cheney. Do you think he’s happy? Only the way a pig is happy at the trough.

Sometimes there’s a lot of complaining. How come change isn’t happening? Why aren’t more people protesting? Well, complaining doesn’t help. Just do what you can do. My talent is writing, so that’s what I do. Everything counts. If you despair and think that what you do doesn’t count, well, how is that different from just sitting on the couch watching Fox News?

If you find all this overbearing or preachy, okay. Argue with me. I would like nothing better. Because I don’t care about being right or wrong. That’s a fool’s game anyway. My real wish is that you would come up with a lot better things than I’ve thought of , and put them into practice too. I would love to hear about it.

All I’m saying is, take care of yourself. We need you fresh. Remember that love is the guide. And happiness is a revolutionary act.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nothing Left

The other night I heard Anderson Cooper, the latest well-coiffed fool de jour, saying something about Obama needing to change the perception that he’s “left of the American center.” He was following up on something Bill Bennett had said earlier. Yes, Bill Bennett. That bastard is now on CNN’s “best political team on television,” which should make you gag if you haven’t lost that reflex from overuse.

Left, right. Right, left. Those terms we all use, derived from the seating arrangements at the National Assembly in Paris over two centuries ago—terms that long ago lost their usefulness to any meaningful discourse. And what is most absurd is that bobble-heads in the media still talk about “the left”—as if it were a viable political force in the United States.

News flash: there hasn’t been a real left wing in this country for at least thirty years. Not if you mean a movement or a political group that has political clout within the American system. During Vietnam, there started to be one, but it was mostly confined to students and other draft-age youth. The rest of the country stayed stupid and apathetic. The powers-that-be made sure that the “new” left of the Sixties was undermined, suppressed, busted, and co-opted into irrelevance. But the vehemence of the antiwar movement, and the brief rise of a so-called “counterculture,” scared America’s owners so much that they’re still hysterically railing against them.

The wingnut nation propped up “liberalism” as its straw man, and pretended that this was the “left.” They actually wanted us to believe that Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, and the rest of the feckless Democratic wannabes, who were in fact corporate shills to the bone, were dangerous leftists. They’ve persuaded even themselves that they are an embattled minority holding out against a powerful left-liberal threat.

Every news talk show has right-wing pundits on its regular staff. George Will, Pat Buchanan, Glenn Freakshow Beck, the list goes on and on. Now, name one left-wing pundit with a regular TV gig. There’s no such thing. No, don’t give me some prevaricator like Mark Shields—he’s a reporter who tries to be “balanced,” not an unabashed spokesman for an alternative to the “conservative” paradigm the way Will or Buchanan are vocal, unabashed rightists. There is no left-wing pundit on TV. None. So when some variety of butt-licking cable anchor talks about the “left,” he (or she) is talking about someone who is not there.

They always talk about “the center,” too. The “center” is a con-man’s trick. The marker keeps getting moved farther and farther to the right. What is considered “the center” now was crazy-ass John Birch territory forty years ago when I was a kid. Ronald Reagan was correctly viewed as a hate-mongering extremist then, not the revered grandpa figure we’ve been presented with since. The Republicans have perfected the art of pushing the boundaries beyond what anyone thought possible, so that you can never be conservative enough, unless you’re with them, and even then you'd better be careful.

There is not a single person in the entire government that I know of who is willing to go on TV and say “I’m a leftist.” If there were, the news show wouldn’t allow him on. To even use the word “left” in mainstream discourse is to imply something perverse and wrong and scary, something that will undermine your patriotism, sell drugs to your kids, outlaw your religion. Every coward in the Democratic Party wants to be known as a “centrist.” If they’re not outright Lieberman turncoats who dream of obliterating nations like Hillary Clinton just did in public, then they’re timid Democrats who want to be decent, but get fwightened whenever Dick Cheney waves his Bin Laden shadow puppet at them.

If the wingnuts were to wake up one day and find that there was an actual “left” in this country, they would piss themselves in fear. In Europe they still have a labor movement, for chrissake. They have labor parties, and viable socialist parties that win fucking elections! The left is embattled in Europe, too, for sure, and was badly tainted by association with the criminal Soviet and Chinese regimes. But there is an actual left-wing there! In America, we have a right-wing monopoly on the political process with a phony straw man “left” used to prevent us from speaking up. What there is of a progressive movement is totally outside the system, and it’s still a small minority.

If you’re a student interested in getting ahead in the political game here in the U.S., what do you do? If you’re a right-winger, even a pinhead like Dinesh D’Souza, you will have opportunities galore to advance yourself. People will throw money at you. You can write for rags like The American Spectator and The National Review. You can write books and get invited on talk shows. It doesn’t matter that you can’t write, that your mind is a stagnant pool of banality. Just string the usual half-assed opinions together and you will be rewarded. Take Jonah Goldberg, for instance. Please.

You see, there’s a lot of money behind the rightist movement. A whole lot of money, and more where that came from. And if one wingnut is discredited, they'll just buy another one. There's always another one, because there's money in it. That's all conservatism is. There are no actual principles involved other than that.

Now, let’s say you’re a left-winger. What do you do? You can maybe start a blog for no pay. You can go work for a Democratic politician, get betrayed and corrupted, write position papers and get swallowed by the system. You can compete for the few low-paying gigs at The Nation or Mother Jones or whatever. Probably you’ll just go back to academia and become a professor. That’s the one place your leftism might be tolerated. As long as you don’t attract too much attention.

So don’t talk to me about the left. There is no left. It was killed when the labor unions bought into the war machine and became fat and complacent. It died when working people indulged racism and hatred and voted for smooth-talking liars who turned around and screwed them for everything they had. It was murdered when so-called liberals sent thousands of kids down the pipeline to Vietnam. Now we just sit and wait for scraps, hoping that some candidate will bring us “change.” But I don’t believe in left and right any more. I believe that there are greedy corporate pigs who own the country and are running the government. And then there are the rest of us, mostly trying to just get by.

Hint: the rest of us outnumber them.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shallow Hopes

You might think this post is about Hillary Clinton. Actually, it’s not.

An argument I’ve read more than once recently goes something like this: “I don’t know if I will have another chance to see a woman President in my lifetime. I don’t know if my daughter (or granddaughter) will have another chance. But I see a new excitement in her eyes, just having a viable woman candidate running for the White House. And I can imagine what having a female President will do for the pride and self-esteem of millions of women and girls in this country.”

My initial response is to sympathize with this view. As a man, I can only imagine what it’s like to have my gender so unrepresented and discounted in public life, and in the narratives we’re presented with as well. The misogyny of the culture is so deep-seated that I can well imagine how a woman President could represent something of a psychological breakthrough for many women, and for that matter, many men.

But when I further consider the implications of this statement, I find it—much against my inclination, I must say—shallow and na├»ve.

When we think this way, we invest the office of the Presidency with a magical power and prestige that is just what the proponents of untrammeled executive power have sought for it since the last century. “The President of the United States” has been awarded such obsequious adulation—wholly independent of the qualities of the individual holding office—that this public servant is treated more like a king or an emperor, or (in a more vulgar sense) like the ultimate American celebrity. And this is a big part of why we’re in trouble as a country. The executive has essentially usurped the power to make war from the Congress, and acts nowadays as if it were completely above the law. We might think this is solely Bush’s fault, but the tendency has been building, and reinforced by the establishment and its media, from way before Bush was even born.

The notion, then, that the fact of a woman possessing this office has an absolute value in itself, as reflected, moreover, in the aspirations of our daughters and granddaughters, essentially buys into this idealized vision of the Presidency, a vision that unfortunately does not fit with reality. The reality is an ever-expanding national security state waging imperial wars of hegemony around the world.

The question is: does the assumption of power in this imperial system by women—what is in effect the exercise of authority by women in an unchanged patriarchal structure—constitute progress in feminist terms? I say it does not. There is no lack of examples of powerful women—such as, for instance, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice—whose government careers represent no real challenge to an imperial or patriarchal system, and in fact quite the contrary.

If we had a woman President who was bombing Iran, would that be a source of emulation and pride for our daughters or granddaughters? If so, it would be a virtually meaningless pride, a pride unconnected to actual social conditions. The symbolism would merely reinforce the dominant ideology.

Behind the argument I sense a lack of connection with the world situation today. Inside a bubble of privilege, we may talk about whether we have a chance to see a woman President in our lifetime. But I look around me and I wonder, will there be a survivable world left in our children’s lifetime? The situation is so dire that I can only judge such identity-based arguments as blind and out of touch.

The question, therefore, in a campaign for President, is how the candidate proposes to help us. In pragmatic terms, that means the candidate’s position on the issues. In a wider sense, it also means the philosophical approach of the candidate—what is her world view, her vision of society, of government? What does she support, and what is she against? What has she done in the past, and how does this indicate what she will do in the future? And so on.

Fundamentally, this is a more respectful stance towards a female candidate than to posit her gender as a value in itself. That is like saying, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, what you say, or how good a President you might be. You’re a woman, and that’s enough.” That’s actually insulting, I think. It implies that the female candidate can’t withstand an equal consideration on the issues involved.

Of course, in the real world, women candidates face a revolting double-standard, especially in the media, that tends to put them at a disadvantage. This is especially true of progressive women, who are attacked—subtly or not-so subtly—on grounds that a man would never have to endure. This always needs to be condemned. And in a society conditioned to hate women and treat them as trivial and secondary, misogynistic thinking pops up all the time, sometimes even in the words of progressives. We’ve all internalized it to some degree.

But this is different than arguing that we should elect a woman just because she’s a woman. Hell, there are women who participate in political decisions and structures that victimize women. There are pro-war women, anti-choice women, wingnut women. It seems obvious to me that we need to judge a candidate on her merits.

Yes, this applies just as much to race. I can’t fathom arguing that someone should be President because of his or her race any more than because of gender. In the contest between Clinton and Obama, the gender and race of the candidates have been emphasized beyond all importance. Like just about every other aspect of elections as they’ve been packaged in the media, this has turned the political process into trivial, small-minded junk.

I started out by saying that this post is not about Hillary Clinton. I say that because if Senator Clinton’s statements and actions really convince you to vote for her, then by all means vote for her. But if you haven’t bothered to pay attention, and you just want to vote for the Senator because she’s a woman, I don’t really think that’s feminist. I think that’s dumb.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Imperial delusions

The feeble response of the Democratic majority in Congress to the war—meekly submitting to the threat of Republican filibusters, signing all the checks for fear of being anti-troops, etc.—made me wonder if maybe the Cheney crime syndicate had warned leading Democrats that their loved ones could meet with “accidents” if things went too far. (It’s a measure of how low we’ve sunk in the last seven years that I no longer dismiss such ideas as implausible.) A more likely scenario, perhaps, would be that some government official or other has whispered secret spook knowledge into Democratic ears—something so downright scary that the poor dears are willing to line up and salute whenever required. The public space, our space, has been stripped of all meaning and value, and “true” knowledge relegated to the realm of “intelligence”—that dark place that inspires fear and obedience in the hearts of sheep-like politicians. We citizens are outsiders now. We don’t know why, or how, or even what things are really happening in the stinking corridors of power.

In the larger scheme of things, however, the continuation of a war hated by a majority of Americans indicates a deeper struggle than our conspiracy theories can account for. Rational heads have been offering solid ways to pull out of Iraq for the last four years. The best that the war party has offered in response is that Iraq will descend into chaos if we leave—as if it hadn’t already been brutalized and demolished into chaos long ago. We’re asked to believe that something would happen in Iraq that would actually be worse than what’s already happened. The truth is that the pro-war forces couldn’t care less about the chaos and destruction, now or in the future. If they did, they wouldn’t have conducted their occupation in so brutal and uncaring a fashion. The administration wouldn’t be renewing the contract of Blackwater, for instance—a mercenary outfit that is hated and condemned by the very government that we’re supposedly supporting in Iraq.

There seems to be very few lawmakers in Washington who are willing, even at this late stage, to take a stand against the war. The dominant narrative has to do with failure and incompetence—the war has been poorly waged; it has not succeeded in its mission; it’s draining our resources. The most daring statement the average Democrat is willing to make is that the war was a mistake. At the same time, of course, they must assure us of their unflagging respect and support for our brave men and women, who have done a magnificent job, etc.

Why the hell are we still in Iraq? Because we are, and therefore we can’t leave. As absurd as it sounds, this is the actual reason.

The Cheney gang represents such a hard lurch to the right that we now tend to note the differences between the two political parties more than the similarities. We’ve heard the anti-Nader folks sputter with indignation at the statement that there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats. Well, of course there is a difference. The trouble is, there’s not enough of a difference to really solve our problems. The members of the political establishment in this country are united, for the most part, in one thing: a faith in American empire.

There have been imperial tendencies throughout our history, of course. The U.S. waged war on Mexico and the Philippines, to name only two examples. But it was the end of World War II, with Europe in shambles and America in possession of the bomb, that gave a big boost to our imperial pathology. Now it was our duty to police the world and fend off the Soviet threat, and to that end the elites established a permanently expanding military budget. Sure, Russia and China were dangerous, but it just so happened that you could make huge amounts of money keeping the world safe, and power eventually became a self-perpetuating rationale.

Between 1946 and the present, it has become virtually impossible to question the propriety of American empire in public and be viable among the political elites in Washington. Militarism has been so thoroughly equated with patriotism that there is no mainstream voice challenging its validity.

There is probably a sizable percentage of the American public—whether it’s a majority or not I don’t know—that doesn’t care about being a superpower, but just wants to make a decent living, have decent education for their kids, and live a safe, prosperous life. Many of us probably aren’t fully aware that we’re being duped, that empire isn’t really benefiting us in the long run. In any case, that point of view has been marginalized.

The mind-set runs so deep that it is practically unconscious. More than once I have heard local news anchors refer to our soldiers in Iraq as “defending freedom.” It’s not so much a statement about the justice of this particular war as it is an assumption that the military is automatically defending “freedom,” no matter what it does. This is one way it works on the ground. In the bigger picture, it means that “America” cannot possibly be wrong—and in this formulation “America” is a military empire.

Garry Wills remarked years ago that the famous Stephen Decatur quote, “My country, right or wrong,” is truly patriotic in that it recognizes the possibility that my country could be wrong. The imperial version of patriotism, on the other hand, does not allow for such distinctions, or for any exercise of individual conscience against the assumed purity of “America.” This is all in keeping with a militarist mind-set. In the military, you obey orders. You don’t question. It’s a top-down hierarchy, a dictatorship. You’ll notice the frequency of the term “commander in chief” these days when referring to the President. This is not an accident. Constitutionally, the President is not the commander in chief of the citizenry, only the armed forces. But now we’re all being conscripted, whether we like it or not.

What we’re seeing, then, in our present Middle East debacle, is a desperate struggle to maintain the delusion of empire. A rational person might think that it would be a simple matter to admit failure and make the best of a lousy situation. But it’s impossible for an imperialist to ever admit failure. That’s equated with “losing” a war, which contradicts the image of the triumphant and benevolent superpower. To the imperialist, pulling out of Iraq would mean that we may no longer be able to enforce our special imperial privileges. Other groups or countries will be encouraged to challenge American hegemony. The imperial project is like a house of cards, or a string of carefully stacked dominoes. The old “domino theory” from the Cold War was really an expression of a mental insecurity. To manage the entire world, to steer everything in the direction of American interests, to hold a thousand competing forces in the grip of American military and economic power, is a never-ending task. The alternative is to be only a republic, a nation among nations, which is just what the founders intended, but they were apparently not ambitious enough for the modern brave-new-world crowd.

Whatever happens in Iraq, however long it takes for the U.S. to withdraw its forces from that country, and I do hope it will be soon—the overriding issue facing the country is whether we want to continue the game of world empire, or purge ourselves of this madness. The longer we continue, the more degraded our political and economic process, and our domestic life, will become. The military will become more and more dominant in our lives until we eventually succumb to some sort of martial law. At some level, although not completely a conscious one, the public has become fed up with the whole enterprise, but the people who own the country are still completely into the game, and won’t give it up without a struggle. The question becomes how spectacular the failure will have to be for the edifice to really start crumbling.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The real PC

The term “politically correct” has been with us so long now that it can be indicated by the initials “pc” and be understood by most people. If you look past its genesis in dour Maoist rhetoric, however, you’ll see that it actually gained currency as a humorous phrase used by leftists to satirize their own tendencies to rigidity and judgmentalism.

But then the Wingnut Nation, crawling out from the slime after the Reagan catastrophe, latched onto it, turning it into one of their attack-mode catchphrases, and without any humor at all, other than the oafish variety. “Politically correct” came to mean an attempt to prohibit language perceived as insensitive to women and minorities. The educational establishments at the colleges and universities were targeted, not just for policing language, but for their identity-based curricula—women’s studies, black studies, and so forth.

If you were to believe the rightists, political correctness was a tidal wave threatening to engulf free speech. The threat, however, was hugely exaggerated. Yes, there were misguided attempts to control language through speech codes or through individual cases in which someone’s use of words became a focus of protest. They were very few, and what few there were turned out to be ineffectual. But it was to the right’s advantage to continue to exaggerate this phenomenon, because it served to inflame the tempers of its reactionary supporters—white men, for the most part, who felt threatened by feminist gains, and resentful of the black civil rights movement as well.

To accuse someone, or a group of people, or an institution, of being “politically correct,” therefore, has become a mere code word for “left wing.” “Politically incorrect” is a label denoting someone with independence of thought, even an iconoclast. In general practice, though, it tends to indicate the view that sexism, racism, and homophobia are not really problems any more, if they ever were, and that everything would be just fine if the left would stop complaining.

Such are the tortuous highways of language in our sound-bite culture.

But if you think about the implications of “politically correct” without regard to how it’s been twisted by wingnut rhetoric, there’s a basic sense of restraint of speech, of the possibility of getting into trouble for saying something objectionable, something that goes against the “correct” view. And if you really examine what is considered objectionable in the mainstream discourse, in the controversies that go on within the establishment and its media, you will discover that it is the “left” that is overwhelmingly labeled incorrect. In other words, conservative ideology is the dominant form of accepted thought, it is “politically correct,” not some professor at Columbia teaching Marxist studies.

Remember Ward Churchill? He was nothing but an obscure professor at the University of Colorado. He didn’t hold elective office or host an AM radio show. But the wingnuts, always looking for someone to demonize, seized on an essay he wrote about 9/11 called “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens” and played it for all it was worth. Churchill said some stupid things, including the phrase “little Eichmanns” in reference to the victims of the WTC attacks. Were there consequences for his speech? Yes, he was later fired, supposedly for other reasons, but if you believe he would have been fired anyway, without having his essay pilloried on Fox News, you probably believe that Saddam was friends with Bin Laden.

Now, on the other hand, we have Anne Coulter saying that the 9/11 widows are enjoying their widowhood too much and should shut up. She’s actually an extreme example of wingnuttery, but did she continue to be invited on Fox and MSNBC? Did she continue to publish books? Yes. So which one is “politically correct,” Churchill or Coulter?

Other examples abound. Right-wingers can say just about anything, free of consequences. Once in a while there’s an idiot like Imus who forgets to use the right code words and he gets slammed temporarily. Most of them have learned how to speak loud and clear to their racist fans without saying “nigger.” They have less compunction about using sexist smears and language, which are still acceptable to the good old boy network.

Recently we have witnessed a “controversy” about the pastor of Barack Obama’s church. It was a controversy because it was made into one by a group of wingnuts, and the media played along as they usually do. This pastor said “God damn America.” The context didn’t matter—those magic words were enough to alarm the guardians of right-wing political correctness. America is good and holy and can never be wrong. If you are a black man and you say such a thing, you are made into an object of fear and loathing. This fear and loathing can then be associated with Obama, simply because he goes to that church.

Conservatives, among them right-wing Christians like Jerry Falwell, hung out with Jesse Helms for years, made alliances with him, and praised him. Jesse Helms was one of the most racist, hate-filled legislators of modern times. Were any of these people told to disavow their association with Helms, or even to distance themselves from him? Of course not. Helms was a white Senator, therefore respectable. A black man, on the other hand, must step carefully, even if he’s a minister, even if he’s a Senator.

Have you ever seen Republican politicians urged to distance themselves from Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Ralph Reed, Randall Terry, and their ilk? No, they embrace them publicly. The president confers with them. Yet they preach hatred against feminists, gays, liberals, and (ever so subtly) African Americans who seek justice and equality.

So you see, political correctness, in the only ways that matter—in terms of power, influence, and consequences—is a right-wing affair. Wingnuts continue to portray themselves as victims, as courageous crusaders against liberal orthodoxy, and even after years of conservative domination of the government and media, people believe it. The right is the establishment—they guard the speech to make sure it’s pure. There are still no actual antiwar voices in the mainstream media, after five years of this fiasco. And when push comes to shove, it’s the right-wing that tells you to burn your Dixie Chicks records. I don’t notice any liberals trying to ban Toby Keith.