Jonah Goldberg

Everything worth saying about the Don Imus thing - which isn't much - has been said already. We've now moved beyond Imus to the "national dialogue" phase of this familiar cycle. This is where we're supposed to tackle hard questions and deep truths about our society.

People have been calling for national dialogues and conversations for decades. It usually works something like this: Liberals say we need a frank discussion about race (or class or gender) in this country, and then they proceed to bludgeon any conservative stupid enough to take them up on their offer.

Consider a recent non-Imus example: Newt Gingrich said last month that bilingual education keeps some people in the "ghetto." Within hours, the same "let's have a frank dialogue" crowd denounced the former House speaker, insisting that he apologize for being so frank. And Gingrich promptly complied.

That's how the political-correctness Kabuki theater works. There's a reason so many were quick to point out that Imus' "shocking" shtick is museum-lecture dull compared to what black rappers spew on a regular basis. Too often, political correctness is a fixed fight where white guys get beat up for things others are allowed. The selective enforcement of PC shibboleths undermines the credibility of liberal do-gooders. For example, when campus administrators turn a blind eye to goons burning conservative newspapers or shouting down right-wing speakers, it makes it hard to take them seriously when they bleat about free speech.

But don't get me wrong. For the right - not to mention the creators of "South Park" - political correctness can be the gift that keeps on giving. The earnest leftists of the academy who seriously use "herstory" for "history" or "ovular" instead of "seminar" make it easy to discredit the entire PC project as a lot of pretentious, even Orwellian, nonsense.

But pointing out these excesses has costs for conservatives, too. Standing up to political correctness has become an unlimited warrant to be rude for its own sake. And if you catch flak for it, you can just say you were defending free thought. Ann Coulter, for example, justifies her cruder barbs and insults on the grounds that she's pushing back against the liberal thought police. Sometimes she's even right. But calling John Edwards a "faggot" is hardly a triumph of conservative principle.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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