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Jewish World Review March 12, 2001 / 17 Adar, 5761

Tony Snow

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Cowardice dressed up
as good manners -- WE live in an age of practiced hypersensitivity -- a time when entire squadrons of political operatives get rich by exploding with theatrical rage anytime anybody runs afoul of our increasingly intricate rules governing public expression. But the fascinating thing is that this practiced anger tends to operate only in one direction -- against traditional values and conservative political views.

Three recent news stories illustrate the phenomenon: First, Ted Turner, the man who created the cable news industry, stunned minions during a going-away party for Bernard Shaw, CNN's anchor of record for years.

Turner encountered a young woman with a smear of ash on her forehead as part of her Ash Wednesday observances. Said Ted: "I was looking at this woman, and I was trying to figure out what was on her forehead. At first I thought you were in the (Seattle earthquake). What are you? A bunch of Jesus freaks? You ought to be working for Fox."

The Catholic League has blasted Turner's comments, as it should. The man is an anti-Christian bigot, protected only by the fact that anti-Catholic prejudice has become de rigeur in America's elite political circles. Yet, the comment didn't make a big splash in the press.

Of course, many editors may have decided not to run the story because it's no longer news that Ted Turner is a fool. But the other reason is that many journalists may not have been able to understand why anybody would take offense at Turner's imbecility.


Story No. 2: David Horowitz, America's foremost gadfly, has challenged college newspapers to run an ad condemning the idea of government reparations for all black Americans. His 10-point argument is eminently sensible: It makes no legal or moral sense to exact payment from people who have committed no crime to people who have suffered no direct harm. He notes that no group shares singular responsibility for slavery, exclusive benefit from its fruits or consistent harm from its legacy. He pokes holes in other reparations claims, and concludes by arguing that the movement stigmatizes blacks, ignores history, distorts legal precedent and makes a mockery of our standard notions of justice.

Horowitz has offered a serious argument in order to counter a wholly unserious political crusade. Yet only five colleges in the country have dared run the ad, and two of those subsequently printed apologies for printing the Horowitz screed. The Daily Californian at the University of California even dismissed the Horowitz argument as "bigotry."

Note the difference between this story and the one above: The mere mention of race hurled college journalists into a panic. Rather than permitting a provocative advertisement to encourage a debate, they published a mewling editorial afterward to suppress discussion. (The editorial only incited further controversy, of course.)

Finally, story No. 3: Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, appearing on "Fox News Sunday" (which I host) used the N-word in describing certain white people. This is not an unusual term for people of his generation or region. Some of my relatives used it from time to time when I was a child, usually as an epithet to describe what we might now call "racist white trash."

Byrd swiftly apologized to those who might have taken offense, but that didn't stop critics from demanding the senator's head. In so doing, they ignored Byrd's central argument, which bears repeating: "(Race relations) are much, much better than they've ever been in my lifetime.

I think we -- this is my personal opinion -- I think we talk about race too much. I think those problems are largely behind us. I think we can all profit by our mistakes. I think we've reached a new plateau, and I think it's going to keep going upward -- understanding and race relations.

"I just think we talk so much about it that we help to create somewhat of an illusion. I think we try to have good will. My old mom told me, 'Robert, you can't go to heaven if you hate anybody.' ... We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I'd just as soon quit talking about it so much."

These are not the preachments of a bigot or race-baiter. Just the opposite: Byrd counseled holding one's tongue in order to foster peace and to acknowledge the reality that things are getting better, rather than performing stunts designed to make things worse.

The moral of our three stories is that our cult of correctness not only is highly selective in its choice of targets; it's also nothing but cowardice dressed up as good manners -- an attempt to silence important ideas, rather than taking the time to grapple with them.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate