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Here’s How To Tackle Garden-Variety Political Correctness


Sunday morning, when we’re supposed to leave for a two-day getaway in the Berkshires, I wake up sick as a dog with what turns out to be the flu. Even though I’d had a flu shot, which I had to pay $100 for because my insurance company wouldn’t cover it at my doctor’s office, although they would have, without even a nickel co-pay, at CVS.

But that’s not what this article is about. It’s about the creeping politicization of almost every encounter in life by soft-core liberals who don’t even realize they’re doing it—as epitomized by the often absurd and always shrill “health” crusade of the “medical community.” And how conservatives, moderates, and any common-sense liberals left can walk the fine line between crankiness and surrender in navigating this everyday minefield.

(You didn’t really think you were going to get off easy with some sappy piece about “my day home with the flu,” or even something about insurance companies, did you?)

The Sins of the Fathers, Visited Upon the Children

To get back to the story, the doctor who sees me at the local urgent care center begins with the standard medical intake and history. Thus one of the first things I tell him is that I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life—since these days the smoking question seems to be just about the first up in the medical interview, practically coming before name, height, weight and “What seems to be the problem?”

So there I am, never smoked in my life, just minding my own business trying to get treated for the flu, and the Smoke Nazi is pontificating to me about my father’s perhaps suboptimal health choices when he gave up cigarettes in 1962

We then get to the part about my parents, and I tell him that my father died 26 years ago, at 77, of a stroke but that he had lung cancer at the time. “Was he a smoker?” the doctor quickly asks. Insofar as I give any thought to the reason for this question, I assume that the answer he’s concerned about is “No,” as it might suggest a genetic predisposition to lung cancer and I was presenting with bronchial symptoms. But I should have known better from his Church Lady tone. When I answer, “He was when he was younger, but he switched to cigars and pipes,” Church Lady goes full Torquemada and barks: “THAT’S STILL SMOKING!”

It was as if I’d told Alan Keyes that he’d switched from homosexuality to bisexuality. Sin is sin.

So there I am, never smoked in my life, just minding my own business trying to get treated for the flu, and the Smoke Nazi is pontificating to me about my father’s perhaps suboptimal health choices when he gave up cigarettes in 1962, two years before the Surgeon General’s Report about it, when I was seven. Hence the dilemma that always arises in these situations: do you let this stuff slide or call the guy on it? I honestly don’t like confrontation (my friends and family are snickering!) but, hey, I was sick. Still, I try to start with at least a little subtlety.

See Something? Say Something

“You’re lecturing me on my dead father’s habits 50 years ago when I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life?” I say with a smile, adding that I’ve never smoked a cigar or pipe, either. Subtlety never works. He repeats, arrogantly and cluelessly, “Smoking cigars and pipes is still smoking!”

Because I spoke up, some of them at least now know that it’s a subject of debate.

So I shift to the non-subtle approach, and tell him that I’m there for an examination and not a political lecture on smoking, even if the lecture were relevant to me, which it obviously is not, that haranguing a nonsmoker about his late father’s cigar smoking 50 years earlier reflects both kneejerk zealotry and an inability to reason logically, and that while I’ve never smoked in my life people like him and Dr. Frieden make me want to as an act of rebellion.

Did it work? No, of course not. I’m sure he had no idea what I was talking about. Obviously, I could have handled it better. But, although I’m sure my wife will disagree, I don’t think that saying nothing would have been handling it better. I think it’s usually important to say something (something better than I did here) in situations like this because they’re often what the Left calls “teachable moments.” Many of the most mindless invocations of political correctness come not from hardcore leftist ideologues but from relatively apolitical “fellow travelers” and “useful idiots” who have no idea they’re saying anything political at all, or that there are any enlightened persons who don’t agree. I think that’s one reason this kind of unthinking orthodoxy is so common in the “health community,” and it often goes hand-in-hand with a Church-Lady-like sense of duty to spread this unquestioned wisdom to the unenlightened.

To take a simpler example outside the area of health, if I say to someone like Elizabeth Warren that the oft-cited statistic that women earn only 77 percent of what men do is bogus and discredited she at least knows that we’re having a political argument. She may even be sophisticated enough to know that the statistic is in fact spurious, so change the subject to some other claimed evidence of women’s oppression. But if I say the same thing, as I have, to non-political students at some of the country’s top schools, I get a look like I said the earth was flat. Because I spoke up, though, some of them at least now know that it’s a subject of debate. And even if Warren does know this, too, she’s not going to tell them.

Does this mean that, despite what I said at the beginning about navigating the minefield “between crankiness and surrender,” I actually always advocate the former? No, it’s probably best not to make a fuss at funerals. And, of course, if you can pull it off, it’s always better to come across like Ronald Reagan than Mark Levin. But in general I think the homeland security slogan is not a bad rule of thumb for tackling political correctness: If you see something, say something. Otherwise, no one else will.