Watch CBS News

A Burning Question

BOSTON (CBS) - "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?"  That question posed by the House Un-American Activities Committee back in the 1940's and early 50's caused many to panic, others to lose their livelihood, and some their very lives.


Today, the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy are considered malicious or certainly over the top.  Were their communists in the ranks of government during the height of the Cold War?  You bet your backyard bomb shelter.  But insinuation and suspicion outflanked efforts to expose true enemy agents.  Smug self-righteous politicians and commentators leveled accusations, many of which were taken out of context or fabricated outright.  That was more than a half century ago.  For those who thought the joyous days of blacklisting were long gone, think again.


The charges have changed but the "thought police" are at it again in a big way.  Today's uncomfortable question is --- "Are you now or have you ever been a racist?"  It was put directly to celebrity chef Paula Deen by NBC's Matt Lauer last week on the highest rated Today Show in months.  If you caught the interview you might have thought the reigning Queen of Lard (a favorite ingredient in most of her recipes) had committed a first degree felony.  The fact that she uttered that word some thirty years ago that makes the sanctimonious media culture bristle is all that matters to them.  I thought I was watching a spoof produced by "The Onion."  Jean Valjean in retrospect had it easy during his trials.


Select individuals who haven't learned to play by the politically correct handbook (not including such raving anger management candidates as Alec Baldwin who magically own a lifetime pass for everything) now need to be taken to the woodshed, ruined financially and belittled in the public square.  And all because of the use of a word or words that might offend someone, somewhere.


Of course words can be hurtful.  We all know that.  But as much as I peruse my tattered pocket edition of the U.S. Constitution, I cannot find any amendment granting citizens the right NOT to be offended.  Host Lauer pummeled Deen with demeaning questions in an obvious attempt to make her look petty, ignorant and confused.  He succeeded.  Sadly for Paula, she didn't handle the situation well.  The woman is most comfortable cracking eggs, adding bacon to everything while judging bake-offs.


Ms. Deen did make a tragic tactical error.  She told the truth under oath.  Back in 1987 following a robbery in which an African-American held a gun to her head (she was the bank teller), Deen uttered the most polarizing word of our time in anger.  Lauer asked her if she considered "fudging" her testimony and lying under oath to have avoided the current mess.  She told him and the TV audience that she didn't believe in lying.  There's your problem Paula.  You went ahead and admitted being human.  How insensitive, how outrageous.   The lesson for Paula Deen and most of us is this--- if we're looking to save our hides, we had better master the art of self-editing when it comes to the matter of  race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, economics, sports, humor and that's just the start of it.


Sad, that  in a week that featured civil wars, floods, wildfires,  medical miracles, a local celebrity murder case and a pretty satisfying Red Sox winning streak, the "holier than thou" protectors of sensitivity were licking their chops happily crucifying an aging diabetic millionaire chef with a drawl that only made things worse.


I prefer to level condemnation on those who truly merit it.  You know the type.  Those who murder, rape, pillage, steal, park in handicapped spots, etc.


EKG machines register the physical strength or weakness of the heart. So far there isn't a machine that will register what lies deep in one's heart, our feelings.  Orwell warned of a society that forbade creative expression.  We're edging closer to that future.


A wise sage on the subject of language, one George Carlin preached that there are no bad words; but words that the majority deem to be bad.  I agree with the late great comic that it is not the word or phrase by itself but the intent with which it is used that promotes negativity.


In closing, here is my word to those who look to tear down the Paula Deens of this world who aren't necessarily politically correct ---beware.


Joe McCarthy found out what that word meant the hard way.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.