When the political correctness movement spread across college campuses, particularly in the last decade, I embraced it at first. Then I didn’t. It seemed that the line between “correctness” and freedom of expression was becoming increasingly blurred and confused. Political correctness migrated from campuses to the workplace and especially to political debate forums at an alarming rate. In the past decade, it has consumed the Democratic Party and made identity politics central to the Party’s message. In the process, PC began to dissipate the Party’s age-old message of jobs and equal opportunity.
I believe in the Democratic Party and its traditional goals. I registered to vote as a Democrat 48 years ago, as did my father and grandfather before me. We were all devoted liberals, supporting all things progressive—especially the union movement and the struggle for civil rights. Like many others, my father was subjected to beatings for attempting to register African Americans in the deep South. But I worry that we are losing our way. A growing number of political analysts believe political correctness was a major factor in the Democrats’ losses in 2016. As liberal comedian Bill Maher joked after the election, the Democratic Party had “gone from the party that protects people to the party that protects feelings.”
The difficulty for Democrats like me is that any attempt to debate the impact of political correctness on the party is itself viewed as politically incorrect. Yet the PC movement that my party is being forced to embrace is not only rewriting the party’s message, it is costing us votes. If political correctness were a movement that confronted bigotry, women’s inequality, and hate speech, then of course we Democrats should embrace it. But as the PC movement spins out of control, the results are politically and even morally disastrous. The city of Seattle recently decided to drop all reference to Easter eggs so as not to offend anyone that is not a Christian. The PC solution? To rename them “spring spheres.” It would be funny if it were a joke. It’s not, and there is nothing funny about it.
It has been three months since I lost a very good job because my company (Fox News) had established a zero-tolerance policy based on political correctness. I was fired because I had been accused of making a racist comment. After endless negotiations, my separation agreement, which had forbidden me to publicly comment on the facts surrounding my case (no similar restrictions were placed on my accuser), was changed, finally giving me the opportunity to defend myself.
The facts of my case are these. My accuser’s lawyer told the press that his client was in my office fixing my computer when I allegedly said, “I don’t want a black man fixing my computer,” then stormed out of my office. Yet my accuser was never in my office, and I never said those words. The truth is that I was running late for a meeting, my accuser was late, and he never worked on my computer. I had to go. I ran across him on my way out, coming out of the elevator, and he said, “Now you don’t want me to fix your computer, bro?” I said, in jest, “I don’t mind if an African American fixes my computer.” He laughed, I laughed. Two days later the head of Human Resources fired me. I later learned that months before this, my accuser’s lawyer had filed a class action suit on behalf of black employees charging Fox with discrimination in the workplace.
My case is not much different than thousands of others who have lost their jobs to the scourge of political correctness. Political correctness in the workplace, wrote the Harvard Business Review, “can pose barriers to developing constructive engaged relationships at work…. Barriers to workplace relations and culture are regulated by political correctness…. People feel judged and fear being blamed.”
In a zero-tolerance workplace, there is rarely, if ever, an opportunity to appeal the decision. Another common problem is that the intent of the employee who crossed the zero-tolerance line is never factored into the decision to terminate that employee. Instead, what is given all the evidentiary weight is how the accuser interpreted the comment or action that led to the firing. In my case, my family’s decades-long support for civil rights and my decades as a liberal politico should have been evidence enough that I would never intend to make a racist comment—yet none of that was factored into the decision to fire me.
Bob Beckel is the former Co-Host Fox News’ The Five. He was National Campaign Manager for Walter Mondale and Assistant to President Carter in the White House.