Commentary Magazine


Topic: political correctness

Ben Carson’s Outsiderism for Its Own Sake

On the occasion of its tenth anniversary in 2006, Slate invited some of its critics to temper the “self-congratulation” with some humbling criticism. Jonah Goldberg’s contribution was to knock Slate for turning its own penchant for contrarianism into a caricature. “Contrarianness is a great and good thing—when driven by reason and facts. But contrarianness for its own sake is often the very definition of asininity.” Unfortunately, this description soon became apt for a certain archetype of Republican presidential candidate as well–a role currently filled by the increasingly absurd Ben Carson.

Read More

On the occasion of its tenth anniversary in 2006, Slate invited some of its critics to temper the “self-congratulation” with some humbling criticism. Jonah Goldberg’s contribution was to knock Slate for turning its own penchant for contrarianism into a caricature. “Contrarianness is a great and good thing—when driven by reason and facts. But contrarianness for its own sake is often the very definition of asininity.” Unfortunately, this description soon became apt for a certain archetype of Republican presidential candidate as well–a role currently filled by the increasingly absurd Ben Carson.

Here are three things that are true: Washington D.C. is a bubble; the mainstream media is biased against conservatives; and the political class is often too far removed from the ethos of the private sector. And so, conservatives have an admirable and instinctive attraction to “outsiders.” In part, this is because they are; conservatism is the American counterculture. So outsiderism is often a breath of fresh air. But outsiderism for its own sake seems to lead too many conservatives to abandon the very critical thinking that makes their conservatism so valuable in the first place. And candidates like Carson take advantage of that.

Carson has, in the past, made extreme comments. His points of comparison for modern liberal big-government policies have included slavery and Nazism. And yesterday, speaking at the Republican retreat, he had this to say about America’s founders and the current crop of terrorist organizations waging war against the West:

“A bunch of rag tag militiamen defeated the most powerful and professional military force on the planet. Why? Because they believed in what they were doing. They were willing to die for what they believed in,” Carson told a luncheon audience of national committee members. “Fast forward to today. What do we have? You’ve got ISIS. They’ve got the wrong philosophy, but they’re willing to die for it while we are busily giving away every belief and every value for the sake of political correctness. We have to change that.”

Carson then preemptively criticized the press, whom he said would seize on the comments.

The last sentence there is as important to the story as the controversial comments themselves. Carson not only makes extreme statements; he says them knowing they’ll be considered extreme and believes this is its own form of validation.

Carson, true to form, starts out with something that is true: political correctness is eroding the West’s respect for its own identity. Then he says something insane, by comparing our own political correctness unfavorably to ISIS, which enforces a much stricter political correctness by cutting off people’s heads. Carson then completes the formula by pretending that the backlash to his comments proves his point.

The problem here is that Carson and his supporters, in the quest to puncture the D.C. media bubble, have created a situation just as problematic. In Carson’s world, the more criticism he receives the greater the righteousness of his declarations. There appears to be no way to break this loop.

In its writeup of Carson’s latest comments, CNN adds:

It’s that very penchant — for frank and often controversial comments — that has made him so popular with the GOP base, and turned the retired neurosurgeon into a rising conservative star who just last month polled third in a CNN/ORC survey of the potential GOP presidential field.

I don’t know if the first contention is true. It sounds right, but any statement on why conservatives support a candidate for president should have more to it than equating correlation with causation. As for Carson’s own polling, I don’t think it’ll hold up. I wish I could say that’s because his views will be recognized as amateurish demagoguery. But more likely it’s because of the quality of the prospective 2016 field.

In 2012, the volatile GOP nominating race was appropriately dubbed the “bubble primary” by ABC News. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich all spent time getting a sudden boost of support as the “not-Romney” candidate. Early in the race, some viewed Tim Pawlenty as the one to watch; others thought Michele Bachmann was being vastly underestimated; still others wanted Chris Christie to jump into the race. Before the election got underway, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (who didn’t end up running) and Jon Huntsman were the ones who scared many Democrats the most.

These posts used to include a statement along the lines of “with the caveat that we don’t know who will actually be running…” but we know much more about the field now. Jeb Bush and Rand Paul are in. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal are not too far behind. And Marco Rubio, Mike Pence, Rick Santorum, and even Mitt Romney are obviously strongly considering it. This is not a field in which boomlets are likely to fall into people’s laps; they will have to be earned.

The quality of the field is an obstacle for Ben Carson, who wouldn’t have been nominated even in 2012 and stands less of a chance in 2016. And the grassroots conservatism of many of the candidates this time around undercuts the idea that he’ll be kept out by fearful insiders. Outsiderism for the sake of outsiderism won’t win in 2016, but that doesn’t mean an outsider won’t.

Read Less

The Army’s Language Problem

A decade of war has reinforced to the U.S. Army the importance of cultural awareness. Senior flag officers and junior enlisted men and women have all heard presentations about Islam, and basic elements of Iraqi and Afghan culture. True, discussing the confluence of theology and terrorism remains largely taboo in the politically correct U.S. military, but few troops deploy without knowing basic information about Islam and cultural sensitivities. The notable exception was Gen. Janis Karpinski, whose unit embarrassed the United States at Abu Ghraib; she dismissed cultural awareness as below her and irrelevant to her mission.

Foreign language acquisition remains a problem. Paul Wolfowitz deserves credit when deputy secretary of defense for focusing military attention not only on cultural awareness, but also on the poor state of language acquisition among American servicemen. When I work in Germany, or among Bosnian, Romanian, or Polish troops, there are few that do not speak fluently a second language; few American servicemen do, however, except for many Hispanic soldiers or those from elsewhere who are first-generation immigrants. In recent years, the situation has improved, but only slightly. Senior officers will be the first to admit that the Army and the Marines still have a long way to go.

Read More

A decade of war has reinforced to the U.S. Army the importance of cultural awareness. Senior flag officers and junior enlisted men and women have all heard presentations about Islam, and basic elements of Iraqi and Afghan culture. True, discussing the confluence of theology and terrorism remains largely taboo in the politically correct U.S. military, but few troops deploy without knowing basic information about Islam and cultural sensitivities. The notable exception was Gen. Janis Karpinski, whose unit embarrassed the United States at Abu Ghraib; she dismissed cultural awareness as below her and irrelevant to her mission.

Foreign language acquisition remains a problem. Paul Wolfowitz deserves credit when deputy secretary of defense for focusing military attention not only on cultural awareness, but also on the poor state of language acquisition among American servicemen. When I work in Germany, or among Bosnian, Romanian, or Polish troops, there are few that do not speak fluently a second language; few American servicemen do, however, except for many Hispanic soldiers or those from elsewhere who are first-generation immigrants. In recent years, the situation has improved, but only slightly. Senior officers will be the first to admit that the Army and the Marines still have a long way to go.

Some of the criticism directed toward the U.S. military for alleged cultural mishaps has been unwarranted. For example, many (not all) of the allegations that American male troops patted down and searched Iraqi women were false: When troops wear full battle rattle, it’s hard to tell males from females and so Iraqis—and some American journalists—just got carried away with assumptions. Criticism about American raids on mosques was also often unwarranted. Rather than simply treat mosques as inviolate sacred space off-limits to American forces, critics of American raids would be far better off questioning why some mosques became safe havens for terrorists or storage depots for weapons. When push comes to shove, force protection of American troops must always come first.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. military has assembled all-female engagement teams to meet and work with Afghan women who oppose the Taliban but whose culture and religious practice would not allow them to interact with any unit which incorporated males.

The cultural mishaps which have occurred—burning the Quran at Bagram, for example—are inexcusable and they were punished promptly. Still, they are exceptions, and rare ones at that. Likewise, abusing the bodies of Taliban fighters was an empty crisis: Americans seemed more outraged than Afghans. There is no evidence that any sought revenge because of the behavior of the few troops who desecrated Taliban bodies.

Still, there is one major problem which no level of the Army or Pentagon appears ready to address: foul language. It would sound like a silly complaint if it was not so corrosive to our mission and responsible at times for kinetic backlash. Especially among younger troops and out-in-the-field, every tenth word seems to be “sh-t” or especially creative constructions revolving around “f-ck.” Afghans may not understand English and even those that do will have a poor grasp of idiom, but all understand foul language. While not all “Green on Blue” violence is the result of cultural affront, some is. Likewise, I recently heard of a case in eastern Afghanistan where, watching women carrying heavy loads in the fields, one American soldier exclaimed, “Will you look at how much those f-cking women can carry!” Three days later, tribal leaders lodged a protest complaining that Americans had suggested that Afghan women working in the fields were sexually loose. In certain societies, honor matters. Americans are not the only guilty party. The Canadians had an incident in Somalia two decades ago in which a similar young private exclaimed to a Somali standing guard duty with him outside a meeting, “Boy is your sheikh pig-headed.” The young Somali understood two words: “Sheikh” and “Pig” and four Canadians died over the next couple days because of the misunderstanding.

Before his retirement from the military, Gen. David Petraeus often spoke about how every soldier was also a diplomat. He was right. Few American diplomats emerge anymore from behind the blast walls which fence in American embassies in trouble spots, and so the face of the United States is the soldier. While we might be the strongest country on earth, we are still guests in the countries in which our troops deploy, and so it is imperative to act as guests instead of occupiers. There are few employers in the United States who would let employees interacting with the public swear non-stop.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Political correctness is nonsense, but this isn’t about political correctness. Not only do we pay consequences in our battle to win hearts and minds, but so long as the military also serves as important job training for those entering at the lowest ranks, it does a disservice by tolerating this lack of professionalism. It may be an uphill battle and, admittedly, there are greater battles which must be won. Language may be a detail, but we ignore such details are our peril.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.