Saturday, January 6, 2007

Political correctness strikes again

Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, is in trouble again, this time for not using the vocabulary rule-book that is periodically distributed to all Americans, updating them on what words are and are not politically correct at a given moment.

One can read the tedious details in the big Gazette article. Or better yet, read the more balanced reporting in the Great Falls Tribune.

Butcher is lucky that he got by with only having to make a public apology in front of the entire House and then having to listen to public lectures by fellow lawmakers on racist speech. If he had really been in trouble, he might have been sent to a re-education camp.

There is a great irony tucked deep in the story, as is often the case. Butcher has a Native American daughter, whom he adopted as an infant and who is enrolled as a tribal member on the Windy Boy reservation. Those are hardly the actions of a callous racist.

In such a short session, to waste floor time on something like this is ridiculous. But the point to it was clear -- score political points at any cost.

Butcher's comments were not made in a public meeting, but during small talk before a meeting. The normal civilized procedure if someone says something offensive in an informal setting is to tell that person on the spot, or later in private, that one was offended. The offender has the opportunity to apologize (for harm is rarely ever meant) and mend bridges.

Most people are good-hearted, and don't want to say hurtful things. But generational, geographical, educational, and family background differences play a large role in how skilled one is at using Correct Speech. Not everyone gets every memo on what should and shouldn't be said. Kind people quietly teach others what is and isn't polite to say when gaffes occur.

But we are not living in a civilized time when we deal with Democrats today. Intentionally nasty and derogatory things can be said about "NASCAR Republicans" and "fundamentalist Christians" -- with no societal repercussions or public censure. On the other hand, the slightest slip of the tongue regarding a liberal shibboleth means a public verbal flogging.

But them's the rules, and Republicans need to play by them, whether or not they are fair. Don't look for a Gazette article anytime soon about a public apology on the House floor by a Democrat who said in private that a given Republican was a "backward redneck."