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The Many Different Definitions of 'Politically Incorrect'

November 27, 2000

I object to Stan Cohen's assertion (" 'Politically Incorrect': Maher's Misnomer," Nov. 20) that the term "politically correct" can only apply to the left--as if the left has a monopoly on rigid orthodoxy!

Ironically, Cohen's article is a prime example of right-wing political correctness in action. He is upset essentially because Bill Maher and his guests ridicule his sacred cows: "traditional family-centered values," "individual responsibility," "sanctity of marriage," "conventional lifestyles," etc.--phrases as cliched and ultimately meaningless as "the dignity of native peoples" or "patriarchal oppression."

In effect, Cohen is complaining that Maher is politically incorrect. It just happens to be a brand of political incorrectness that Cohen finds, well, incorrect.



Congratulations to Stan Cohen for hitting the nail on the head with his piece on Bill Maher and "politically correct." PC doublespeak and the morons who support it have done more to disrupt and polarize America than anything the Russians could have come up with back in the Cold War days to destroy this country from within.

As far as Maher is concerned, crude jokes aside, he is the bad boy of PC thought. Contrary to its title, Maher's show promotes nothing but political correctness and a singular mind-set where any divergent thought from his is ridiculed and considered intolerable.


Los Angeles

Stan Cohen seems to think that the right invented the term "politically correct" and has some sort of copyright on its meaning. I think a little history is in order. I first heard "politically correct" in the mid-'80s, used by leftist activists referring to other leftists, sort of a self-parody that warned us of falling into the trap of the same kind of rigid thinking we accused our opponents of. Sadly, by the end of the decade that very rigidity had become prevalent enough on the left that the right was able to co-opt the phrase and use it against us.

In the ensuing decade, though, its meaning has broadened among people who discuss politics to become shorthand for any rigid ideological orthodoxy, especially where that orthodoxy is enforced by the suppression of not only dissent but also the idea that dissent is appropriate at all.

And while there are still plenty of examples of this attitude on the left (as Cohen rightly points out), they can also be found in abundance on the right (remember Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, hounded from her job for suggesting that masturbation is an appropriate topic for sex education in public schools?) and even the center (witness the fate of any mainstream politician, Republican or Democrat, who advocates even the discussion of liberalization of drug laws).

And now it comes full circle, with Cohen trying to enforce a rigid political definition of the term itself. Ironic, isn't it?



Stan Cohen's essay criticizing Bill Maher is so full of pseudo-intellectual gibberish I'm surprised The Times published it. Apparently, Cohen hoped verbosity would camouflage the fact that he doesn't know what he's talking about. He rails about the "far-left" influence that "continues to seethe and chum at some of the best-known universities" and the "strong-arm radical students" who are "aided and abetted by intimidated faculties and administrations."

But he doesn't cite a single example. During 37 years of teaching at four universities (plus time spent on research at Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, Brown and UCLA), I not only was never intimidated, I never met anyone who was. And all that seething and chumming must have occurred when I was on vacation.

Of course, in his occupation as a commercial real estate developer in Orange County, Cohen is obviously in a much better position to detect those sorts of things than I would have been.



Hats off to Stan Cohen for his extremely well-written critique exposing Bill Maher's program, "Politically Incorrect," for the sham that it is.

It is difficult for me to admit, but I too had been suckered into watching "Politically Incorrect" on a couple of occasions based on its misleading title. After having been exposed to Maher and his cohorts, I reached the conclusion that he and his self-aggrandizing guests have the same intellectual integrity as those associated with "The Jerry Springer Show."



Having neatly defined "political correctness" to his own satisfaction, Cohen says that a program called "Politically Incorrect" should cleave to the opposites of the above-given positions. We would therefore expect Cohen's version of Maher's program to:

1. Deny the worth of any values and cultural legacies other than those of Western civilization, and promote the ideals of Western civilization as the only way to see the truth and light about how to live. 2. Take an extremist position against acceptance of anything smacking of multiculturalism. 3. Accept that might makes right and fight fiercely any suggestion of helping those who are capable but do not espouse Cohen's values--primarily, people who are not white and do not live in Newport Beach.

I think if you read Cohen correctly (and not "politically correctly"), you can see that his views are more than just a tad extreme. His statements are so extreme that I am more than mildly surprised The Times chose to publish them.



The article on Bill Maher was 100% right on! He is almost as single-sided as Geraldo. My congratulations to both Cohen and your paper for printing it.


Grover Beach

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