POLITICAL correctness, race, feminism, ideology, bias, orthodoxy, neoorthodoxy, McCarthyism, coercion, the public, the academy, hypocrisy, tradition.These are only some of the conceptual weapons used by both sides in the battle over Carol Iannone's controversial White House nomination to the National Endowment for the Humanities advisory panel. Better get used to them. That so much attention was paid to a Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee vote last week for a spot on the 26-member panel shows how serious the cultural wars in America have become. After a long debate in the press and Senate, Dr. Iannone, one of the most active of the anti-political correctness avant garde, was rejected for the post. Iannone is clearly a talented, bold, and original thinker. Her writings in Commentary magazine, and for the tough-minded journal "Academic Questions," take on many of the comfortable liberal platitudes and too-often unquestioned politics and ideologies of the US academic world. For Lynne Cheney, chairman of the endowment, to suggest that Iannone's nomination was not political is silly. Of course it was political - just as the Senate vote against her was political. Two years ago, Iannone would have passed through the Senate with ease. Yet cultural politics in America have become so loaded that Iannone did not finally have enough stature to surmount them. Her support has been more for her scholarly muckraking than for her own scholarship. Her recent article taking on Alice Walker's literary prizes, whatever its merits, was just plain ill-timed. The Bush administration has been somewhat cavalier and even careless in its approach to race issues lately. Carol Iannone may actually be a victim of that carelessness. The NEH ought to have a diverse panel, and it can. Plenty of other critics of liberal or feminist orthodoxy have the necessary stature - Brigitte Berger or Jean Bethke Elshtain, to name two.