- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

In one version of an age-old teaching tale, two antagonists appeal to a wise man to settle their dispute. After listening to the first, the sage says, “You’re right.” Immediately, the second party chimes in, stating his opposite view of the matter, and the old man replies, “You’re right, too.” The teacher’s main disciple then notes, “But Master, they can’t both be right,” and the response is “And you’re right, too.”

This week, we have again found ourselves in the tedious and barren outland of political correctness, not once, but twice. Arnold, here in California, has offered his mea culpas to the distaff side of humanity for acting out the prerogatives of stardom over the last 30 years, while Rush Limbaugh has lost his sportscaster gig for making statements which involve race. This last example must be seen as bearing some relevance to the “Race Neutral” initiative, Proposition 54, which would bar any official record keeping in the Bear State relating to racial matters.

What’s the big deal? we may ask. In substance, maybe not too much. But in terms of what this country is supposed to be about, I’d say quite a bit.

The Supreme Court recently addressed that persistent saddle-burr, affirmative action, much in the way high school coaches used to advise the boys about a particular personal practice: It’s OK as long as you keep it in moderation. In other words, we are supposed to be a color-blind society — a gender- blind one as well, by extension — but only in moderation. And, therein lies the rub (or in Arnold’s case, the grope).

When a minority member or woman perceives himself or herself the victim of discrimination, past or present, there is absolutely no limit, short of the defamation laws, upon the diatribe in which the allegedly aggrieved party may engage. On the other hand, any “majoritarian” racial or genderial viewpoint which is less than complementary will be denounced as racist or sexist, regardless of its validity or motivation. And, this in that nation which enshrined freedom of expression in its very first constitutional amendment.

To be sure, these are sensitive issues. Those who state that they endure the residue of past impediments may well be right, despite the full-bore efforts of courts and legislatures to level the playing field. On the other hand, every parent of a college-bound child, every male worker who is up for promotion, has the legal and moral right to ask “Why should I be punished for sins and inequities in which I had no part?” There is no simple, global resolution to these conflicting claims. In essence, each side is “right.”

But the larger question, the one corresponding to the disciple’s inquiry, is the one which demands an answer now, today. The great paradox presented by the apparent validity of both positions cannot be eliminated by the “solution” of political correctness. At the very least, on ESPN as on university campuses, the right to full and free expression of viewpoints must not be limited to those who speak only for the minority position. For one thing, it’s un-American. For another, it precludes the give-and-take which was perceived by the framers of our Constitution as central to the civil resolution of often un-civil controversies. Such strictures were the direct cause of the birth of the Klan in the disenfranchised white South.

When we speak of rights in this country, we must always consider and include the right to be wrong, at least in terms of how we think or what we say. Only through untrammeled exchange, they tell us in law school and civics class, will the “right” result prevail. And, if you say there will never really be a right result, well, you’re right, too.

Frederick Grab is a former California deputy attorney general.

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