The political reaction to the issue of the relocation of Syrian refugees here in the United States helps us to understand the crucial difference between what is politically correct and "politically correct". Ostensibly, they are one and the same thing, but there are subtle differences which must be noted if we are to look at our political world realistically. Being politically correct simply means doing what is right, policy wise. "Politically correct" is doing what is electorally advantageous.
Looking at the Syrian refugee situation, the right thing to do, which in this case means the humanitarian thing to do, is to offer whatever aid and assistance we can to those in need. That the Syrian refugees are a people in need of aid and comfort is painfully obvious. The pictures from the internment camps housing them ought to tell us that. We would be hard-pressed to find any group of people in this world more forlorn and forsaken than those seeking to escape the oppression and tyranny that they are forced to undergo, either at the hands of Bashir Assad or the Islamic State.
We Americans pride ourselves on our giving, welcoming nature. This has been the bedrock of our belief in our American exceptionalism. After all, we're the good guys! So, from a "doing what is right policy wise" point of view, there really is only one correct way to deal with those 10,000 lost souls seeking to find a refuge from terror and tyranny. We let 'em in, period!! We have opened our doors and our hearts to people from around the world who are less worthy of our assistance.
Now, the "politically correct" handling of this situation can be instantly demonstrated by listening to the gaggle of Republican Presidential candidates out there. This brand of political correctness has nothing whatsoever to do with being right on the issue. This is a much more cynical, calculated approach. It ignores the human equation, replacing it with polling data that indicates that expressing sympathy for Syrian refugees can be politically dangerous. Fully 53% of those polled pretty much said that the best way to handle the Syrian refugees is the close our doors, lock them up and throw away the key. If this bloc of voters coalesce into a political force, they will be most formidable.
Sure the 10,000 or so Syrian refugees are nothing more than yet another in a series of huddled masses that have presented themselves to us for acceptance and respect, yearning as they do to finally be free. Yet in the minds of a clear majority of the American public, these victimized people represent a clear and present danger, an implied threat that must be avoided at all costs. What makes this even sadder is that we've been down this path before. One day, seemingly on a whim, Fidel Castro opened his jails and let the prisoners free. In Senor Castro's mind this was the opportunity of a lifetime. He would exile all his problems to the United States. A few actually WERE political prisoners, but most of them were ordinary convicts, charged with and convicted of crimes, some of them harmless and others heinous. And a good many of them were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. No matter. Castro cleared his prisons and we were stuck for an answer.
President Carter in a fit of habitual do-gooderism, gave these poor, hapless creatures a home, accepting Senor Castro's "kind generosity" without taking into consideration the consequences, consequences which were to become readily apparent in a very short time. Most Americans then, and I suspect even now, regarded these people as the dregs of Cuban society and wanted absolutely nothing to do with them. Sound familiar? While this gesture of rampant humanitarianism may have been both morally and ethically correct, it had a deadening effect on the political standing of Mr. Carter and his political party. Why, even a popular young governor in the state of Arkansas was to suffer the sting of reaction against the placement of a few hundred of these "refugees" in his state, as he lost his bid for re-election to a heretofore ineffectual political rival.
Issues like the Syrian refugee situation underscore the reality that American exceptionalism is not quite so exceptional. Don't get me wrong. The fear Americans are experiencing is real and palpable. Letting Muslims in this country by the barrelful can easily be interpreted as a risk. It would be absolutely impossible for anyone to conclude they KNOW that these Syrian refugees represent no clear and present danger. It is entirely possible that lurking somewhere in that mass of humanity is the potential architect of a terrorist incident somewhere in these United States. Oh sure, the President can assure us that the refugees will be thoroughly vetted and that this vetting process will screen out any such terrorist leader. But he has been wrong in the past and may very well be misled or misguided in the future. A great many Americans have come to the conclusion that it would behoove us to err on the side of caution in this case.
Yes, the fear may unreasoning. It may even prove to be entirely unjustified. But this fear that we may become the ultimate victims in this game of international intrigue is a real one. It hangs over our collective mentality like some kind of miasma. But while the fear may be nothing more than a figment of our imaginations, it is real and it is there. Anyone trying to swim upstream against the rising tide of xenophobic opposition to the admission of Syrian refugees may well suffer the same fate as that luckless young governor from Arkansas. I wonder whatever came from him? Name of Clinton I think. At any rate, it is important that we draw a distinction between what is politically correct and what is "correctly political". Profiles in Courage are seldom dealt with positively. It may warm the cockles of old politicians' hearts that they were politically correct, but that will come as cold comfort to those who have lost elections and face the prospect of losing future elections.
Filed under: Politics