Being politically incorrect. These days, it sounds good.
The public tends to like people who are willing to cross the boundaries of political correctness, as evidenced by the decent poll numbers garnered by presidential candidates who are defying political correctness.
But when someone is put on the spot, as we’ve learned with last week’s terrorist massacre in San Bernardino, California, the tenets of political correctness will most certainly prevail.
A neighbor of San Bernardino terrorist couple Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik reportedly witnessed suspicious activity at a home leased by Farook’s mother, but did not report it for fear of being accused of racial profiling.
I suspect in a lot of places in the United States, fear of being accused of racism would be a dominant theme. The exception might be Alabama and throughout the South, where the reaction would be to stock up on firearms and ammunition.
However, in a country that is so image conscious — think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — is it reasonable for us to assume most Americans would be willing to risk being branded as racist, in the name of public safety?
My guess is no.
If you’ve used public transportation in Washington, D.C., at any point going back to 2010, you’ve heard the voice of former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on a recurring loop over a loudspeaker, proclaiming in grand Orwellian fashion, “If you see something, say something.”
The gist of that message was to urge vigilance and to remind citizens it’s the public’s duty to help law enforcement prevent terror attacks.
Meanwhile, high-ranking members of the Obama administration, including President Barack Obama himself, go out of their way to caution against harboring any animosity toward or even suspicious thoughts about Muslims.
“It is the responsibility of all Americans, of every faith, to reject discrimination,” Obama said in an address to the nation last Sunday. “It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.”
But that’s where it stopped.
What Obama and many other of our elected leaders haven’t done is define a boundary as to where discrimination ends and fulfilling our duty as citizens to report suspicious activity to help law enforcement begins.
There is a nebulous gray area where you have two contradictory messages and better defining that is something this White House has been reluctant to take on, for whatever reason.
That is why this issue has now permeated our presidential politics. We now have some clumsy responses from the likes of Donald Trump, who despite those responses continues to build his lead nationally among the GOP hopefuls. You have others like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) suggesting it is time to take the fight against ISIS to Syria rather than having to take them on here at home.
The candidate, be it Democratic or Republican, who can best articulate his or her approach to taking on this threat to our homeland security and differentiate him or herself from Obama will be doing their campaign a huge favor.
Everything is touched by homeland security, especially an issue that will determine how most Americans vote — the economy. Terrorism can send the U.S. economy into a downward spiral, as we learned after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Attacks themselves may not affect people directly, but their indirect impact can be pretty staggering.
Just consider this: How much productivity has the U.S. economy lost to time spent going through airport TSA checkpoints in the last decade and a half?
These acts do have consequences for all of us, be it in New York City or Mobile.
So what is the solution? It’s certainly not a Muslim database or some sort of no-fly list gun control measure. Having a debate about what’s fair game in vigilance is worthwhile, but having one about a policy that violates constitutional rights is a step too far.
Maybe it’s a “crime stoppers” type of system that could be instituted. If you’ve watched any sort of local broadcast television over the past few decades, you’re probably aware of these “crime stoppers” PSAs or segments during your local news telecasts. An announcer tells about some unsolved crime and asks for help in identifying and/or capturing a suspect. And then there’s a generic tagline about how you can offer tips anonymously and if your tip leads to an arrest you could get a cash reward.
Being called a racist is obviously something no one would want to risk having to deal with, but I imagine it gets much easier if said tipster knows there the possibility of getting a $1,000 check if he or she were to report Muslim neighbors are suspected of building pipe bombs in the basement.
Whatever the solution is, overcoming the fear violating the tenets of political correctness will be a major part of that, and we can start with better definitions from the high-ranking officials in the executive branch of our federal government.