I want to be very clear: I think it is wrong that police officers commonly lie on the stand regarding traffic citations that they’ve given out. I’ve seen it firsthand and I think it is an outrage. Yet I have never written an article about it. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken to anyone about it. It’s not because I think it is just fine. Rather, it is because it isn’t that important. And this is what I think when Jonathan Chait writes, Can We Start Taking Political Correctness Seriously Now?
I didn’t even need to read it to know what it is about: some Missouri protesters blocking an ESPN photographer from gaining entrance to their encampment. I heard about it over the weekend. And I thought, “That’s a mistake!” We are liberals and we believe in openness and fairness and freedom of speech. Just the same: it’s college. And besides, people do stupid things all the time. Is this a trend? Not as far as I can tell. Incidents like this go back as far as there have been colleges and they never became normalized — even in the “scary” 1960s.
But Jonathan Chait has been complaining about this stuff for years. And if there is one thing that everyone knows about Jonathan Chait, it is that he will never give up a fight. I know of two different fights he’s had with Ta-Nehisi Coates. In both cases, Chait was completely wrong and out gunned. Yet those fights only ended when Coates got bored. Chait would always have a response because in Chait’s mind, he is never wrong. Or something. It could just be that he’s lazy. Once you write an article about political correctness, the next dozen just write themselves. They are all the same, you just have to change the specific example and tweak the reasons why this time young liberals have turned authoritarian.
Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber wrote a very useful article, Beware the Commissars of Political Correctness! He documents Chait’s alarmist writings as far back as 2006 when he warned about Netroots and the possibility of “members starting off as relatively sensible liberals, or left-liberals before veering into the abyss.” The abyss, of course, being “more liberal than Jonathan Chait is comfortable with.” He really reminds me of Bill O’Reilly, who is just fine with people of all political stripes — as long as they aren’t outside his clearly defined political window. (Admittedly, Chait’s window is far more reasonable than O’Reilly’s.)
The truth is that every liberal I’ve read regarding the Missouri protesters have been harshly critical. But here’s Chait’s takeaway:
So you see the problem. It isn’t enough to condemn the act. We must all join Jonathan Chait’s bandwagon. We must admit not just that the protesters are wrong, but that they are part of some great threat to liberalism itself. Our criticism of this act is proof that there is a major problem. Have things gotten worse in Missouri since this incident? Not that I can tell. So it is more of Jonathan Chait’s Chicken Little act. Missouri is the leading edge of leftist totalitarianism, just as Netroots was nine years ago.
Jonathan Chait has a large readership. And he writes a lot of good commentary. But he blows out of all proportion what everyone agrees is a minor problem. It is very much as if I went around ignoring police brutality because my personal cause — the one that really gets me excited — was the injustices going on in traffic court.