Gary Shapiro
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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?

Political correctness does not allow us to have a discussion on the harmful impact these laws may be having on hiring of females, minorities, disabled and those who are older. Many employers have encountered an employee who doesn’t work out, hires a lawyer and extorts a settlement from the employer. We hired an employee who was over 60 and insisted on a nap every day. When terminated for poor performance she hired an attorney who said we were discriminating against her on the basis of her age.

Political correctness prevents the type of honest discussion we need to solve our biggest problems. Our nation is in trouble. We are struggling largely because we are not being honest with each other. We are selecting politicians who promise easy solutions and avoid tough discussions.

We cannot expect to recover our economic prosperity when we pillory any politician, pundit or organization that dares to touch the third-rail. We should reward the Juan Williamses of the world for asking the tough questions. The difference between a culture of honesty, respect and diversity is different from a legal and elite mandate of a code of silence that precludes discussion of the toughest issues.

America can and should do better. We can begin by discussing and recognizing that political correctness is neither healthy nor helpful in the type of honest discussion we need to solve the big problems we face. This does not mean we need to change laws or start discriminating. It means we need to stop the censors and confront our divisive issues. Americans have turned on each other, and political correctness is the weapon of choice in ensuring we stay divided.

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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.