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Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Political Correctness Cure

The Political Correctness Cure

By Heather Wilhelm - January 29, 2015

Several years ago, deep in the trenches of caring for a new baby—sleepless nights, epic spit-ups, and various mysterious and terrifying diaper change episodes—I called a friend for moral support. She, too, had a young baby. She, too, had likely forgotten to brush her teeth that day.

“You know,” she told me, in a voice that suggested she was on a beachfront hammock with a margarita in hand, when in truth she was likely scraping a mysterious atomic orange crust off the side of her favorite handbag with the back of an Applebee’s gift card, “I’m trying a new parenting philosophy. It’s totally comprehensive. I found it on the Internet.”

“Ooh! What is it?” I asked, glancing around for a slobber-free pen.

“It’s called CTHD.” She paused. “That stands for Calm the Heck Down.”

In the interest of honesty and full disclosure, I will tell you that my friend’s new and comprehensive parenting philosophy was actually titled “CTFD,” with the “F” standing for a word that you can probably guess.  The “F,” in my humble opinion, makes the acronym considerably funnier. However, since this is a family column, and because I don’t want Mike Huckabee coming after me, I’ll proceed with “heck” instead.

Mr. Huckabee, in case you haven’t heard, does not care for profanity. The former Arkansas governor has been busy traveling the country, earnestly poking the old presidential horse for signs of life (sorry, Huck, but I think for you, it’s probably dead) while promoting his latest book. The tome is subtly titled “Guns, God, Grits, and Gravy,”—and seriously, I’m a fan of all four of those things, but come on, man—and its author has now emerged as the nation’s grumpiest old-codger scold.

Last Friday, appearing on an Iowa talk show, Huckabee discussed his “culture shock” and discomfort while working as a media personality in New York City. (As an aside, it appears that many Iowans do not exactly “heart” the Big Apple; when I moved there for a several-year stint in 1999, my Iowa grandmother warned me, dire-eyed, to “be careful in that wicked city.”) People in the media, Huckabee told the radio host, sometimes swore during meetings, “locker-room” style—“and in New York,” he added, “not only do the men do it, but the women do it!” This disquieting gender equity in swearing ability, Huckabee declared, is “just trashy.” 

I’m not a huge fan of profanity, and I even agree with Huckabee that our culture has coarsened in general, with many negative effects. With that said, like many fine Americans, I do chortle at an occasional well-placed F-bomb. More importantly, I strongly suspect that Huckabee’s bizarre brand of gender-based speech policing, suggestive more of an old boys’ club than a church sanctuary, offers a clear indication of his desperate need to CTHD.

Huckabee picked an interesting week to wade into the topic of offensive speech. Over on the other side of the ideological aisle, liberal columnist Jonathan Chait did the same, stirring up a school of not-so-friendly but somewhat confused proverbial piranhas in the process. Chait’s New York magazine column, “Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say: How the Language Police Are Perverting Liberalism,” bemoaned today’s “politically correct” culture, which, as Chait wrote, is “not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression.” In the end, he argued, hyper-sensitive political correctness makes “debate irrelevant and frequently impossible.”

Moments after Chait’s piece denouncing freak out-prone, identity-obsessed, oppression-reveling rhetoric hit the Intertubes—and really, maybe it was even seconds, not minutes—a swarm of largely left-wing writers, somewhat hilariously, churned out a host of freak out-prone, identity obsessed, and oppression-reveling responses.

 “So,” wrote Gawker’s Alex Pareene, “here is sad white man Jonathan Chait’s message about the difficulty of being a white man.” Chait “is over the terms ‘mansplaining,’ ‘whitesplaining’ and ‘straightsplaining,’” wrote Joan Walsh at Salon, because “he thinks they’ve become efforts to silence or subdue men, whites and straights.” Others ripped Chait for looking past his own “privilege,” refusing to accept how his status as a white male impacts—and distorts, of course—his judgment.

The wrath was clear, it was immediate, and it was highly entertaining.  It also, for a brief and spectacular moment, united the oddest of bedfellows: Huckabee, a cultural conservative who is anything but politically correct, and doctrinaire leftists, infuriated at being called out by one of their own. Their common thread, of course, is an enduring and curious inability to simply Calm the Heck Down.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if, in 2015, we could all manage to CTHD?  Taken as a national self-help program, it could really work wonders. Enraged that a rocket scientist is wearing a “sexist” shirt to the launch of a robot about to land on comet? CTHD. Freaked out that Malia Obama is wearing a short skirt and rolling her eyes at a press conference? CTHD. The list, on both sides of the aisle, could go on and on.

The CTHD method, of course, doesn’t mean that you kick back, down a few tequilas, and snooze off as the kids decide to light the neighbor’s barn on fire.  What it does mean is that you don’t sweat it if the napkins don’t match the cups at a 4-year-old’s birthday party. It frees you, in other words, to focus on the important things. America, at least in many circles, could use a dose of that.

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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