Let me see if I’ve got this right. It’s OK for candidates to call each other idiots, liars, slackers, and cheats. It’s also OK for one pol to accuse another of accepting illegal campaign contributions and participating in other sleazy activities that more often than not involve sex. Equally acceptable is to actually be a liar (I didn’t inhale), a campaign finance cheat (what Indonesian businessmen?), and even a sexual predator (Kathleen who?).
What’s not fine is for a pol who actually commits or accuses others of committing those offenses to notice the gender, race, creed, or weight of the person he/she has accused, attacked, or bilked.
Take the recent elections. Al D’Amato’s campaign relied heavily on Chuck Schumer’s voting record or lack thereof. D’Amato claimed that Schumer missed more votes in one term than D’Amato missed in his whole life. No one called D’Amato on the fact that there are 450 zillion votes in the House for every one in the Senate.
Chuck Schumer’s campaign, on the other hand, tried unnerving D’Amato by calling him a liar. And no one called Chuck on the fact that his greatest political supporter— Bill “I did not have a sexual relationship with that woman . . . ” Clinton— has admitted lying under oath. Schumer says his ethics as a congressman are second to none. Still, he allowed the president to host fundraisers for him even though he’ll be one of the people deciding the president’s fate in the impeachment mess.
The polls didn’t shake much one way or the other until Big Al got caught committing a terrible act. At a breakfast of Jewish supporters he thought were friends, he called Schumer a “putzhead.” In that same meeting, D’Amato called Representative Jerold Nadler “Jerry Waddler.”
What outraged everyone is not what D’Amato said, nor even that he lied about it afterward, but that D’Amato appeared to be— God forbid— politically incorrect. It was fine for D’Amato to call Schumer a slacker and it was OK for Schumer to call D’Amato a liar— but a putzhead? No way, no how. If Big Al had said “idiot” or “dickhead,” everyone probably would have laughed. If he’d accused Nadler of being anything but fat, no one would have noticed. But a rotund remark? It was like calling Dr. Kevorkian in for a campaign boost.
A few days later, Attorney General Dennis Vacco allegedly made an equally un-p.c. move. No, he didn’t kill someone in his rush to get in front of a camera; he was quoted saying the word— can I use this in print?— bandito! “I didn’t say it! I didn’t say it,” Vacco claimed. He then proudly stated that he refers to bodegas a lot, but he wouldn’t ever use the word bandito. Oh.
New York is hardly alone in its rush to root out political incorrectness wherever it rears its beauty-challenged head. In Georgia, the race for lieutenant governor hinged on whether or not the Democratic contender, Mark Taylor, actually referred to the Republican contender, Mitch Skandalakis, as “Demetrios.” The fact that Skandalakis’s first name is, in fact, Demetrios doesn’t seem to matter; Republicans still perceive it to be an ethnic slur.
It’s amazing that NASA managed to get away with justifying sending John Glenn back into space simply because he’s, er, chronologically challenged. I mean, in this p.c. world, isn’t that age-specific bigotry— or am I a bigot for noticing it? Since I’m really confused now about what’s p.c., I rely on my computer. Lucky for me my trusty PC is very p.c. For example, it brought me up short the other day when its grammar-check dug out a sin in a book I’m writing. “Gunman,” it admonished, “is a gender-specific term. Why not choose assassin or sniper instead?” Oy veh, what disgraziati!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 10, 1998