Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Political Correctness has become a major theme of the primary season, and with good reason. President Obama makes “Islamic” verboten when describing jihadist terror, and plays endless variations on the “nothing to do with Islam” tune in order to protect the sensibilities of Muslims. Privileged Ivy League students whine about “microagressions” and “safe spaces,” and force groveling apologies from a Yale professor who suggested lightening up on Halloween costumes. Feminists and the Obama administration peddle lies about the “rape epidemic” on college campuses, and set up star chambers to prosecute offenders. At the University of Missouri, a “media professor” barks “I need some muscle over here” to prevent a journalist from exercising his First Amendment rights. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s politically incorrect blunt comments have contributed to his lead in the polls.
All this may seem new to people like progressive journalist Kirsten Powers, who wrote a book recently decrying the intolerance, illiberalism, and censorship indulged by her political comrades. But as Prospero says, “Tis new to thee.” As Lloyd Billingsley’s collection of outstanding articles and reviews documents, the p.c. plague has been spreading for a long time, and during all that time commentators like Billingsley have been battling the disease with the antidote of sound argument, empirical evidence, meticulous research, and intellectual rigor.
Billingsley is the Policy Fellow and Communications Counsel at the Independent Institute, and a contributor to numerous newspapers and journals, including Heterodoxy, the print precursor to FrontPageMag, where he is a regular contributor. He also has authored many books, including Hollywood Party: Stalinist Adventures in the American Movie Industry. A constant theme in his work has been the baleful effects of political correctness, particularly the nexus it creates of left-wing ideology, big-government bureaucracy, power-hungry politicians, and venal opportunism. The 44 essays and reviews in this collection comprise a fine-grained, detailed history of political correctness over the past three decades, and the toll it has taken on individuals and institutions alike.
In his Introduction Billingsley provides a useful and compact definition of political correctness that the subsequent essays flesh out.
Political correctness dead-bolts the mind and rigs an alarm system that demonizes any challenge to orthodoxy . . . [it] divides society into an oppressor class and a victim class, and elevates group rights over individual rights. In this view, individuals have only the distinction of drops of water in a clear pond . . . Politically correct superstition is now dominant, a veritable jihad of junkthought, and increasingly deployed by government.
And that dominance has empowered and enabled Barack Obama, “the first counterrevolutionary president, shrink-wrapped in statist superstition and deploying the machinery of the state against political opponents and those journalists who dare speak the truth to power.”
The essays illustrate in specific detail how these generalities are manifested in every dimension of our lives. The movies are a major theme, as popular culture is perhaps the most effective way to insinuate leftist ideology into the public square. As famed Comintern agent Willy Muezenberg said in 1925, a “pressing need” of the Communist Party was “the conquest of this supremely important propaganda unit.” “Hollywood’s Missing Movies” explores why “since the Berlin Wall fell, or even the decade before that, no Hollywood film has addressed the actual history of communism, the agony of the millions whose lives were poisoned by it, and the century of international deceit that obscured communist reality.” It is as if, Billingsley continues, “since 1945, Hollywood has produced little or nothing about the victory of the Allies and the crimes of National Socialism.”
Billingsley explains this strange neglect by reprising, in brief but informative compass, the sorry history of communist infiltration of the movie industry in the 30s and 40s. Yet as the recent despicable film hagiography of Dalton Trumbo shows––the die-hard communist screenwriter who described screenwriting as “literally guerilla warfare”–– the movie industry has benefitted from the politically correct fantasy of the “Hollywood Ten,” those allegedly brave defenders of free speech who were in fact stooges of Moscow. The “legend of the blacklist,” Billingsley notes, “sanitized all references to Stalin or to the Communist Party’s actual record in the studios,” with the result that this ahistorical fantasy “became a continuing influence on Hollywood’s political life.”
The chronicles of political correctness, however, reveals consequences much more devastating than Hollywood’s rewriting of history to serve the communist agenda. In “Those Who Do Not Remember the Past,” Billingsley’s retelling of the story of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple exposes the unholy alliance of political correctness and left-wing Democrats who manipulate p.c. rhetoric in order to gain political power and influence.
Jones was a psychopathic totalitarian––he once said the “USSR is our spiritual motherland”–– who sexually abused and tortured his flock in San Francisco, fled to Guyana with nearly a thousand mostly black church members to escape a criminal investigation, and in 1979 perpetrated the largest mass suicide in history. But Jones had sterling left-wing credentials. He opposed the Vietnam War, and preached the racialist narrative of black oppression by racist whites, gaining black radicals Angela Davis and Huey Newton as comrades. He fired up his some 3000 devotees by saying “I come as God Socialist” and “What is your god? Communism!” Most important he could deliver busloads of voters to rallies and the voting booth, endearing him to Democratic politicians like mayor George Moscone, whom Jones helped get elected.
But Jones’ political supports went far beyond San Francisco. A rally in 1976 co-sponsored with Black Muslims featured L.A. mayor Tom Bradley and California Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally. He received gushing fan mail from Jane Fonda and First Lady Roslyn Carter, with whom he appeared at the dedication of the Carter-Mondale campaign headquarters, and who thanked him for his politically correct views on Cuba. Future San Francisco mayor Willie Brown introduced Jones at a tribute by calling him “a combination of Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein, Chairman Mao.” Other fans included then Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph Califano, and Senators Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey. The Los Angeles Herald Examiner called him the “Humanitarian of the Year.”
Billingsley’s lessons taken from this tale remind us that the road to Jonestown is still being trod today by progressive Democrats who peddle the same p.c. nostrums:
The idea of a kingdom of heaven on earth, with wise leaders ordering life for the greater happiness of all, with all needs met, and all anxieties tranquilized, remains incredibly seductive. And in an age when institutional religion has been discredited, its comeback cannot be long delayed.
Indeed, it took only three decades for these prophetic words to be realized in the election of Barack Obama.
In addition to such cautionary tales, Billingsley reminds us of the numerous forgotten victims of political correctness. People like James Wade, who was wrongly accused of brutally raping his eight-year-old daughter based not on evidence but on “feminist ideologies about the evils of patriarchy and politically correct thinking about the nuclear family as a locus classicus of sexual oppression and violence.” Or Robert Cervantes, a former assistant superintendent of education in California who discovered that a coalition of “community organizations” created to benefit Mexican-Americans had embezzled millions of federal grant dollars. Cervantes lost his job because a state government did not want revealed “the dynamics of ethnic politics increasingly dominating the state”––the venal underbelly of p.c. dogma we see today in the lucrative demagoguery of Al Sharpton or the “green-energy” boondoggle.
These are just a few of the many examples of p.c. lunacy chronicled by Billingsley. From women in the military to biased journalism, gun control to progressive political hustlers, censoring free speech to the intellectual corruption of the university, Bill of Writes documents the baleful effects of politically correct orthodoxy over the last four decades, a disease in the body politic still raging today and worsened by the two terms of Barack Obama. And he does so with some witty writing. In a review of Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, he quips, “It took a village to produce this book.” Commenting on communist screenwriter Walter Bernstein, who collaborated with the KGB, he writes that this “gives new meaning to the Hollywood phrase, ‘Have your agent call my agent.’”
Bill of Writes is an indispensible reminder of the long, malignant influence of political correctness. It is a useful riposte to the frequent claims that decrying political correctness is merely a fraudulent political weapon of the right, or a symptom of right-wing hysteria akin to the fabled “red scare.” But just as there were in fact communists infiltrating American institutions, so too today political correctness reaches into every dimension of American life, from policies affecting our economy and foreign policy, to how people rear their children and college students speak. The loser is American freedom and autonomy, not to mention our intellectual and moral integrity. Thanks to intrepid journalists like Lloyd Billingsley, no one can say he wasn’t warned.