Gary Shapiro

I recently ran across an old Internet joke that attempts to define the term “political correctness.” The joke reads: “Political correctness is a doctrine – fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and rapidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media – which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end.” It’s as funny as it is nakedly true. It started me thinking about how political correctness affects us.

I know it does not help us – because as a nation we have come far through fundamental honesty with each other. I am passionate that our success as a nation stems in large part from the brilliance of our founders starting with the freedom embodied in the First Amendment. This freedom has been complemented by a culture which, until recently, encourages and rewards the type of Will Rodgers honesty, entrepreneurial challenge to the status quo, and an immigrant-inspired push for something better. The precise antithesis of political correctness.

Political correctness is the enemy of honest communication. We saw it last year with the firing of Juan Williams from NPR after he said: “I’m not a bigot … But when I get on a plane, I’ve got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

What’s troubling about this episode is that Williams was attempting to begin an honest discussion and got canned for it. As one who has spoken and written about civil rights, he was clearly doing some introspection and contrasting his feelings against what he had knew was the “correct” feeling. All Williams’ firing did was reinforce the concept that we should not have honest discussions about tough issues like religion and ethnicity.

But it’s not just in the political-pundit realm that political correctness has shut down the First Amendment. Take the laws protecting anyone in a “suspect class” from hiring, promotion or firing discrimination. As any lawyer, HR manager or employer knows, this means that an employer incurs more legal risk in hiring or firing anyone who is not a white male under 40. That means it is safer and less risky to hire a white male under 40. Given what these laws are trying to accomplish, does that make any sense at all?

Gary Shapiro

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing some 2,000 consumer electronics companies.