I remember telling one of my college professors about six years ago that I was in a very small minority of people willing to defend "political correctness," though I preferred to call it "political manners." To me, what has become known as political correctness is simply an expansion of good manners to cover more of the polity. Like any other form of good manners, it should not be treated as a minefield where one enjoys others' blowing themselves up unwarily. As has been said of traditional etiquette, so is true of political etiquette: the goal is for everyone to feel pleased and at ease, not to make everyone uptight and unhappy.
Just as a polite hostess need not feel obligated to include children among the guests at a wedding ceremony (though it might provide some help to parents, it will do so at the cost of other guests' enjoyment), she also need not send reply cards with "Mr. and Mrs." already printed if such also is inappropriate to her guests nowadays, though it may not have been once. We simply have a greater variety of people in our public and social lives, and so the individual whose freely expressed opinions might jar against the new differences is expected to keep those opinions at home -- like the uninvited children.
Therefore I was all for Don Imus's firing, and am disappointed by Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman's. Imus believes that it's quite all right to be on a radio station heard by millions and call a group of high-achieving African American women "nappy-headed 'hos." The proper response of a society that disagrees with such public behavior is to remove him like he is having terribly odorous flatulence in a public place. The proper response to someone who used racial slurs in a phone call to his son, in the context of saying that he did not want that use to become public, is to judge him a private racist but not to deem him unfit for public exposure. Imus's persistent on-air remarks denigrating successful African Americans might have become legally actionable as creating a hostile environment, assuming any African Americans worked with him. Nothing of the sort could result from Chapman's because he kept his gas at home. Yet his show is gone and Imus's is back.
But "politically correct" now seems to be an actual substitute for the word "polite," when one wants to make a breach of good conduct look edgy instead of simply boorish.
B. Ben Baldanza, chief executive of the aggressively bare-bones Spirit Airlines, hit "reply all" to an e-mail message from a passenger who wished to be compensated for a delayed flight that caused him to miss a concert he was planning to attend. Mr. Baldanza’s response, which seemed to be intended only for a Spirit Airlines employee but subsequently appeared on multiple travel blogs, said: "Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I'm concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny."I am wholly in agreement with Mr. Baldanza, and I loathe the chorus of complaints from airline passengers who have no brand loyalty and are shopping purely on price. We are now seeing what the Leegin majority said resale price maintenance is meant to prevent: the deterioration of service and the product sold in its purest form, close to the margin, with ruthless price competition. If we don't like how we're treated in economy, we should pay for a better airline or higher class. (Frankly, I'd pay an extra $50 for morning flights that guaranteed pillows, blankets and no screaming children.)
While Mr. Baldanza may regret the manner in which his e-mail statement was delivered, his position hasn’t changed. "The point that I was making in that e-mail, maybe not as politically correctly as I should have, is let's not over-obsess or spend a lot of money dealing with customers with completely unrealistic expectations," he said, pointing out that the delay was due to weather and that the passenger was offered a $200 voucher toward future flights even though he had paid only $73 for two round-trip tickets. "When the fare's this cheap, we’re going to get another customer," he said.
But political correctness has nothing to do with why he might "regret the manner in which his e-mail statement was delivered." The email was not unPC; it was impolite and impolitic (defined by the American Heritage dictionary as "Not wise or expedient; not politic: an impolitic approach to a sensitive issue"). It was impolitic in bidding the customer to "tell the world how bad we are"; it was impolite in calling the customer literally a penny pincher. But of course no CEO wants to announce that he is unwise or even rude. So he cloaks the deficiency in his behavior in the phrase "politically correct," which is a quality that almost everyone despises anyway. The objective is to get across that the problem is not that Mr. Baldanza was inexpedient or unmannerly, but that anyone offended by the email must be a thin-skinned oversensitive minority of some type. If it redounds to his disadvantage, it will be because he estimated wrongly; the population of angry fliers is a thin-skinned, oversensitive majority.