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Commentary: All about Rush - not 'rugged individualism'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 15, 2009 - I've been sitting back and watching the fireworks with the Rush Limbaugh-Rams story. Initially, I thought it was a non-story. Society is full of powerful people who have made controversial remarks. It would not be the first time we had an outspoken and controversial owner of a sports team (i.e., Marge Schott). Plus, as a limited partner, Limbaugh would not have had much power.

Many of the quotes that have been put forward are not -- at face value, nor in context -- racist. They mention race. They seem loaded and racially charged. But labeling him a racist for them is a quick attempt to end the conversation. 

At first glance, I supported Limbaugh being included. It would be dangerous for all of us if select quotes taken out of context were used to limit our actions. Even more dangerous would be to institute some sort of moral hurdle that we all have to clear. That litmus test is based on who is in the position of power to decide what is "right."

I can agree with such rigid judgments when it involves pedophiles living next to schools. However, I am not willing to endorse such strict rules for NFL limited ownership.

Then Al Sharpton weighed in. That's when I knew it was about to get heated. It was no longer about holding Limbaugh accountable for his comments. We got derailed in pointing fingers. Accountability was lost in the sea of the media hype, which often follows both men.

Limbaugh stated on his Thursday show that the decision to not include him is "an assault on people who believe in rugged individualism." We'll unpack that notorious construct another day. But what I want to stress is that conservatism is not what was rejected. Being a lightning rod for controversy is what was rejected.

Saying the ejection of Limbaugh from the deal is anti-conservative would be like saying ejecting Sharpton would be anti-Black. As figures in our country, both are short cuts to controversy.

I listen to Limbaugh's show at least a couple of times a week when I drive during the lunch hour. I think his version of conservatism is often about entertainment. The sarcasm is thick and the mockery at the ready.

At the risk of sounding like "Some of my best friends are Black," I have conservative friends. And few if any are as obnoxious as Limbaugh. He does not equal the conservative movement just as Sharpton and Jesse Jackson don't equal the Black movement.

As much as Limbaugh would like us to forget, the Rams issue is not about conservatives or the conservative movement being part owner in the Rams. It's about HIM being a limited owner, and he's done his share of rubbing people the wrong way.

What got my attention the most was an Associated Press quote from Limbaugh before the news of his removal became public. He said, "I'm not even thinking of caving. I am not a caver. Pioneers take the arrows. We are pioneers. It's a sad thing that our country, over 200 years old now, needs pioneers all over again, but we do."

Really, Limbaugh? After 200 years we should be surprised at our need for pioneers? Where have you been? Clearly, not listening to the stories of women, people of color or any other group that has been on the margins of this country's history.

It's not sad that we have trailblazers; it's an unfortunate necessity.

This month, Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics since it was founded in 1969. Earlier this year, Ursula Burns became the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. We don't need a reminder that Barack Obama is our first president of color. The list could go on and on.

Trailblazers abound, because as a country we set up the rules to limit access. Have we changed most of those explicit rules? Yes. Are we still seeing the cumulative/generational effects? Yes. Therefore, I am not moved by Limbaugh's attempt at martyrdom.

Limbaugh's rugged individualism seems to only allow him to see conservatives as a group being persecuted. When issues of race are discussed, Limbaugh is notorious for minimizing the issue, criticizing a group identity as divisive to America. If I were playing by the same sensationalist rules of Limbaugh, I would shout from the mountaintops that he played the conservative card (similar to the race card -- a claim made in an attempt to use one's race as a way to gain sympathy or favor).

Maybe this entire scene was a ploy to boost ratings. What Limbaugh would like us to take from this situation is that because he, who is conservative, was lambasted we should be fearful for the future of America. What I see is a man who fails to see the irony in his attempt to cast himself as the pioneering victim.

Kira Hudson Banks, PhD., is assistant professor of psychology at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. The native of Edwardsville is a regular contributor to the Beacon.