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The McCarthyism of political correctness
by Jay Ambrose
Scripps Howard News Service


March 08, 2005

As the just-resigned president of the University of Colorado said, there's a "new McCarthyism" alive in America. But it's hardly what was gnawing at her.

Her expressed fear was that critics of Ward Churchill, a professor of sorts at her institution, now feel "empowered." Wow.

Churchill, in case you forgot, is the guy who as much as said that all of those killed in the Pentagon and most of those killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11 had it coming.

He hates America. He advocates violence or whatever it takes to change things. He seems to have received tenure on the basis of an apparently false claim he is an American Indian. His scholarship is phony: He cites sources as evidence of points that the sources debunk.

According to Churchill, America is a fascist state. If it were, of course, the secret police would long ago have arrived on his doorstep and he would now be cooling his heels in a cell somewhere. Instead, his hateful blather has earned him stardom among leftist students and stirred protective fervor among many fellow faculty members, 199 of whom signed a newspaper ad saying that even an investigation of this falsifying nitwit would infringe on academic freedom.

Churchill may ultimately be fired because of a recklessness that exceeds the bounds of honesty and the rules of tenure, but, in the meantime, he is sitting comfortably on a $94,000 salary while any number of stories reach the press showing us what the new McCarthyism really is.

It is what happened to Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard, after he suggested a possible reason women weren't more represented in the sciences at universities was that women tended to be less gifted in math than men.

His point was a respectable one backed up by considerable evidence, but the reaction was anything but respectable: widespread anger among the faculty, withdrawn alumni contributions, hints of censure, suggestions that he resign.

Summers could obviously be wrong, as he himself suggested at the outset. But it is an anti-intellectual dogmatism of the worst kind that would approach the question as settled once and for all and treat those on the other side as disgusting pariahs. What's at work here is the religion of political correctness, the unreflective and arrogant conviction that only certain perspectives and policies concerning race and sex are permissible, and that any divergence is an act of moral thuggery.

The new McCarthyism, you see, aims to deter thought from what certain elitists deem appropriate, to corral supposedly errant expressions in the name of peace and compassion but in the spirit of despotism. Just as the old McCarthyism could be hurtful in its search for Stalinists infiltrating Hollywood, government and beyond, the new McCarthyism can cost people in their lives. Consider, for instance, Thomas Klocek, a professor at DePaul University who made so bold as to debate students who were maintaining that Israel was Hitler-like in its treatment of Palestinians and was later suspended without a hearing.

The most politically correct of our universities seem airless places, closed off from much of the energy and vigor of the rest of this rambunctious, heterogeneous, frontier-fostered continental nation of ours, and thus we see them prohibiting free speech by students, denying aspirants tenure because they might entertain a conservative thought or two or practicing a form of affirmative action that is nothing less than a quota system of racial preferences.

The new McCarthyism makes itself felt in places outside of universities, of course.

And not all universities - or all faculty members or administrators within any given university - are practitioners of the evil art. But universities are among the places where the leftism-infected are often in considerable control, and it's there that you are most likely to see the new McCarthyism in action along with complaints about a new McCarthyism that doesn't exist at all.

The president of the University of Colorado, Betsy Hoffman, had more problems than Churchill. There was also a scandal about recruiting football players with sex and booze, for instance. The university has to fix itself, but so do any number of other institutions of higher education that have forgotten that the splendor of free inquiry involves the risk that someone may occasionally say something that challenges your political faith.


Jay Ambrose, former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)


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