Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chickens, as in the coming home and roosting thereof


Unsurprisingly, the saga of Rush Limbaugh’s failed attempt to buy the St. Louis Rams has made for some amusing commentary on both sides of the political coin, with those on the left barely able to contain their glee, and those on the right crying foul and proclaiming Rush a martyr to political correctness. I, of course, count myself among the first group, with the one difference being that I am making no attempt to contain my glee. Schadenfreude is fun.

What amuses me the most, and what I find most instructive about this minor but entertaining incident, is the “free speech” spin Rush and his apologists have put on it. Joseph Ziegler at Big Hollywood, speaking about the snub, stated, “I strongly believe that it also represents a seminal moment in our cultural history as well as the sad state of free speech in this country.” This kind of response is typical of a certain species of ultra-conservative commentator, flame-throwers who spew hatred and untruth and then whine that their first amendment rights are being abrogated when their comments are subjected to criticism. David Horowitz, the serially mendacious attacker of liberal bias in universities, employs this gambit quite frequently—often claiming that the fact he is not invited to speak at campuses is a form of censorship (and has nothing to do with the hefty fee he demands, or that most of those booking speakers don't tend to invite people who will then spend their lecture attacking them).

Even more bizarre was a post at the conservative blog Red State, which eulogized Rush’s failed ownership bid in language I really, really hope is meant to be facetious: “Earlier this evening, as most of you now know, one of our own, Rush Hudson Limbaugh, while taking withering fire, crashed and burned. Tonight, Rush is no longer ‘just’ a radio personality. Tonight, Rush is no longer ‘just’ a NFL owner denied. Tonight, Rush is us. And we are him.” The “attack” on Limbaugh, the poster maintained, is representative of the left’s totalitarian intentions, which “proved that they will stop at nothing to end our dreams.” As egregious as this claim is, it is topped at the end when the poster quotes, in its entirety, Pastor Martin Niemöller’s infamous poem about the Nazis:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.


Seriously? You’re seriously going to compare the failed bid of a multi-millionaire to buy a crappy NFL franchise to the Holocaust? The rhetoric has gotten way out of hand these days, and when American conservatives claim equivalency between their analogies between the left and Nazis and the left’s cries of “fascism” against the Bush administration, they’re ignoring two crucial points: (1) just because some extreme voices on the left made such intellectually dishonest accusations doesn’t make the reverse acceptable, and (2) the people calling Bush et al fascists were a small minority and by no means in the mainstream—which cannot be said of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the rest of the Fox News contingent. Red State's insanity is not limited to just such wingnut blogs: when an Obama spokesperson announced earlier this week that "Fox News often operates either as the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican party. We're going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent," Glenn Beck interpreted this as an infringement of free speech and also invoked Pastor Niemöller’s poem: “Ask yourself this question: When they are done with Fox and you decide to speak out on something … the old, ‘first they came for the Jews and I wasn’t Jewish’.”

(I recently taught George Orwell’s famous essay “Politics and the English Language” to my first-year English class, and have been working on a post about words and phrases that need to be shelved until people are ready to use them intelligently again. Not to give too much away, but pretty much anything involving fascism, Hitler, and Nazism are all on the list.)

To return to my original topic here, my favourite part of the whole Limbaugh-NFL saga is that, for all the cries of liberal interference and thought policing, what really is at work here is capitalism in action. In spite of what some conservative commentators would like to believe, it wasn’t Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who sabotaged Rush’s ownership bid, but the other people with whom Rush was planning to buy the Rams. The other rich white men pooling their resources dropped Rush at the first sign of rough water, basically as soon as the NFL and the players’ union expressed concern about Rush’s history of making racially charged comments. This, to be clear, was not a prohibition exercised from on high by the forces of political correctness, but a business decision. The NFL is pretty controversy-adverse, and it is doubtful whether the ownership bid would have ultimately been successful if Rush’s cabal had stuck to their guns; but the fact is they didn’t, in the interests of their prospective investment. If Rush wants to portray himself as a martyr, he should be attacking his erstwhile business partners for lacking intestinal fortitude and the courage of their convictions—but of course he won’t, because their convictions begin and end with the bottom line on a ledger, and the ideology of money is one Rush embraces. So he and his dittoheads will attack the left, the Obama Administration, the NFL itself, and Bob Costas (seriously), but in the end Rush’s very public opinions on race made him toxic to a business that trades to a large degree on the goodwill of a large African-American constituency.

And that’s not censorship—that’s being forced to take responsibility for one’s words.

3 comments:

Paul said...

It seems to me that all the negative vibes this blowhard (Rush Hudson Limbaugh A.KA. Jeff Christie) has been spewing over these many years has come back to blow back on his face (A classic “Blow Back”). He always tries to give off the airs that he can have anything he wants but as we all witness those with more money and more influence tossed him aside like sack of potatoes and the ultimate insult was that it was done in public (money don’t buy you everything butterball).

Now of course he blames everyone else (Michael J. Fox, Perez Hilton, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor, Hillary Clinton, Olympia Snowe, ESPN, NFL, the media, basically people of color, the handicapped, women and gays) when of course all you have to do is listen to his show and plainly hear his daily prejudices filled sermons. So NFL, I salute you decision, job well done. And to the whaling cry baby perched on his self made pedestal, quit your whining it was your own fault. Don’t we all feel better?

Chris in NF said...

Paul: well said.

Clarissa said...

Bravo, Chris! Saying anything else/more would not do your post justice.