Chait suspects “that this is because p.c.-niks rely so heavily on identity to discredit opposing views, it is convenient for them to identify opposition to p.c. with a white male, and highly inconvenient to identify it with a famous, liberal African-American.” In any case, he added, “Obama has concluded that the left, especially the young left, has turned away in important respects from his political values. In the final year of his presidency, he has begun to defend his own ideals with increasing force.”
Clarence Thomas’s speech at Hillsdale made passing reference to political correctness, but only in service of a larger point about his notion of what it means to be a good citizen. As one might expect of a conservative, Thomas focused more on personal character and obligations to family and neighbors than activism to effect top-down change. “As you go through life, try to be that person whose actions teach others how to be better people and citizens,” he said. “Reach out to that shy person who is not so popular. Stand up for others when they're being treated unfairly in small things and large. Take the time to listen to that friend who is having a difficult time. Do not hide your faith and your beliefs under a bushel basket, especially in this world that seems to have gone mad with political correctness. Treat others the way you would like to be treated if you stood in their shoes.”
In his telling, “these small lessons become the unplanned syllabus for becoming a good citizen, and your efforts to live them will help to form the fabric of a civil society and a free and prosperous nation where inherent equality and liberty are inviolable.”
While Thomas shared Obama’s belief that much racial progress has been made in America, he seemed to disagree with Obama’s belief that the country as a whole is an unambiguously better place than it was a few decades ago. “Things that were once considered firm have long since lost their vitality and much that seemed inconceivable is now firmly or universally established,” he said. “Hallmarks of my youth, such as patriotism and religion, seem more like outliers, if not afterthoughts. So in a sense I feel woefully out of place doing this or any commencement.”
In his youth, Thomas watched his grandparents behave as model citizens, with the men of their generation even fighting on foreign soil on behalf of a country that did not treat them fairly. “They returned from that horrific war with dignity to face the indignity of discrimination at home,” he recalled. “Yet the desire to push our nation to live up to its stated ideals persisted.” He treated the idealism of his grandparents, even in the face of horrific oppression, as a moral lesson. Through their example, he absorbed the belief that being treated unfairly does not change what is objectively moral or correct or one’s obligation to act accordingly, even if, at times, he harbored grievous doubts about the rightness of that standard:
I often wondered why my grandparents remained such model citizens even when our country's failures were so obvious. In the arrogance of my adult life, I challenged my grandfather and doubted the ideals of our nation. He bluntly asked, ‘So, where else would you live?’ Though not a lettered man, he knew that, though not nearly perfect, our Constitutional ideals were perfectible if we worked to protect them rather than to undermine them. As he said, "Son, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." That is, don't discard that which is precious along with that which is tainted.
A somewhat similar message echoes through a lot of President Obama’s speeches, which juxtapose the evils of slavery and Jim Crow with Obama’s oft-repeated assertion that his personal story is only possible in the United States of America.