His comments weren't demeaning, they were dissent.

And that's the thing that cannot be tolerated.

Yesterday, the art director of Geva Theater apologized to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren for saying her policy about a performing arts center was "naive." She had earlier labeled the criticism sexism, and said Mark Cuddy "owes women and young girls in this community an apology."

For a man to say a woman is naive, she said, is not right.

At first the theater and the several arts organizations it was speaking for clarified and reiterated -- clarified that it meant no disrespect and that it was the mayor's policy that was naive, not the mayor herself, and that the organization still objected to the policy.

Then, apparently, the long knives came out.

Because before the afternoon had passed, the groveling began.

"I sincerely apologize to you, and everyone else," a letter over Cuddy's signature said, "for any offense taken at my use of the word 'naive' in any context pertaining to you. It certainly was not my objective to demean you in any way.

"I can see how it can be construed in an offensive manner."

No he can't. And neither can you. No one can. 

It is a completely artificial claim, and it is an incredible precedent. It is an insight into the obsequiosness demanded by this mayor and these times. It is a demonstration of the true aims of progressive political correctness -- not the silencing of offensive speech, but the silencing of dissenting speech.

Geva Theater and the arts organizations that stood with it were expressing an opinion on a matter of public controversy -- the $20 million taxpayer subsidy of a performing arts center. The mayor supports it, the arts organizations oppose it.

It is a simple matter of free Americans expressing a criticism of a government official's decision on a matter impacting the community and the public treasury. It is exactly the sort of discourse a free society requires and the First Amendment was designed to protect.

And in Rochester it is not tolerated.

In Rochester, these stakeholders were told to sit down and shut up. And their spokesman has now been publicly humiliated, with his community status and possibly even employment jeopardized.

Because somebody put the screws to him.

"Geva recognizes the cooperation that many city departments have given to arts organizations," the Cuddy letter said, suggesting that such cooperation might be in jeopardy.

It's an unfortunate debasement of Rochester's arts community, but it is also a horrible standard going forward. This capitulation has established the norm, and silenced dissent.

If suggesting that a mayoral policy is misinformed -- as the arts people did -- is defined as personally demeaning the mayor on the basis of her gender, then all criticism will be dismissed as bigotry. Dismissed, andpunished. 

The mayor's increasingly thin skin will be a self-asserting standard of social acceptability. In this case, she sidestepped criticism of her poor decision by claiming victimhood and alleging bigotry -- and it worked, and the community accepted it. That will set a pattern for both the mayor and the community in the future.

If criticizing her decisions is criticizing her, and if criticizing her is an affront to all "women and young girls in this community" and is denounced as sexism, then there is no criticism of the mayor.

Dissent is not a difference of opinion, it is an oppression -- a sign of moral inferiority and bigotry.

That's what that letter yesterday really said. 

And that's the reality Rochester now faces.

To feel otherwise is naive.