Juan Williams was just fired from NPR. His sin? He confessed to occasional anxiety when Muslims board airplanes, and then went on to explain why stereotyping is wrong.
The fate of Williams reminds us that Americans have developed two personas -- one public and politically correct, the other private. Mix the two and big trouble ensues.
Here are some reminders about what to shut up about.
Don't discuss the deficit. Instead, call borrowing "stimulus." Trillions are not much different from billions. Debt can be paid back with more borrowing and someone else's higher taxes. Ignore the lessons of Greece and California. To appear noble, call for more unemployment benefits, free medical care and more entitlements. To sound cruel, talk about borrowing to pay for them.
Keep silent about Social Security and Medicare. If the system is insolvent, it cannot be because we are living longer, retiring earlier, often taking out more than we paid into the pot, abusing disability provisions, or facing an aging and soon-to-be-shrinking population. Instead, rail at fat cats who need to pay more payroll taxes, and at wasteful programs like defense that can be cut to ensure more for the elderly and needy. The checks will always come in time, and "they" will always pay for them.
Most Americans choose to be called "cowards" by Attorney General Eric Holder rather than accept his invitation to talk about race on his terms. The NAACP has accused the Tea Party of racist views. The anger over high taxes, debt and big government warrants more concern among the Beltway's black leadership than exploring the causes of inordinately high incidence of crime, incarceration and one-parent homes, and low high school graduation rates. Whatever one's private views, groupspeak requires that answers are found outside, not inside, the black community -- and demand more programs and more federal money.
Don't get caught up in discussing global warming. If you must go there, employ the term "climate change" so that anything from a tornado to a blizzard can be blamed on man-caused carbon emissions. Instead of citing recent doctored research or the inconsistencies in Al Gore's advocacy, just mention that Sarah Palin denies climate change.
Do not, under any circumstances, associate global terrorism with Islam -- despite the countless terrorist operations that have been carried out worldwide by Muslims since Sept. 11, 2001. If Muslims must be mentioned, it should only be in the context that a tiny number, without support and often due to past oppression, commit such terrorism -- earning the furor of the Muslim community at large. Do not end up like Juan Williams of NPR, who was fired for his candid remarks. For insurance, talk ad nauseam about Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing as proof that white male Christians blow things up just as frequently.
Lay off the university. It hikes tuition costs higher than the rate of inflation. It exploits part-time teachers while clinging to archaic notions like tenure. It cannot guarantee that its graduates are competent in either basic reading or math -- or that they will even find a job these days. And it shuns true diversity of thought. Yet question its budgets, hiring practices, political tolerance or affirmative action, and one is dubbed anti-intellectual, racist, against the student loan industry, and cold-heartedly against letting someone be all that he can be.
We do not quite know how Americans will vote next week, in part because citizens fear to talk openly about their concerns and instead employ groupspeak. We suspect that in the privacy of the voting booth, they may prove angrier and more frustrated than we think.
But why not, when they know that candor and honesty can earn a presidential lecture, a job firing or a lawsuit?