NFL takes a stand when GOP won't

What if the conservative movement had the common sense recently exhibited by the National Football League? Most of us might have been spared Rush Limbaugh's over-hyped provocations, such as his charming rendition of "Barack, the Magic Negro." And his sour wishes of failure upon the White House as our nation struggles with the burdens of two wars and the worst economic crisis in generations.

If the right hadn't pinned its political aspirations on Limbaugh's brand of divisiveness, he might never have amounted to more than an interesting sideshow performer, tolerated but never offered a seat at the table of political power.

Instead, we've had to endure Limbaugh's long, inexorable rise to power as the Svengali of a party he neither represents nor respects.

He has made a mockery of the ideal of patriotism, promoting the insane campaign to question Obama's birth in the United States. He has propagated every harebrained conspiracy theory of the right, the most recent being the ludicrous claim that the Democrat-sponsored health care reforms will institute death panels.

A very few Republicans are secure enough to blast Limbaugh, to take him down a few notches. Sen. John McCain once labeled him a clown, and then apologized to clowns. But most Republicans know better than to cross a man with 14 million listeners.

By comparison, consider how quickly the NFL quashed Limbaugh's attempt to become a limited partner of the St. Louis Rams.

Essentially they told him, "Your money is no good here." How refreshing! NFL owners, apparently unlike the GOP, care deeply about image. To protect against interlopers, they run their enterprise like an exclusive club. Three-fourths of the current owners have to approve any new ones. And they wanted nothing to do with Limbaugh.

The radio bawler predictably returned to his microphone with the fury of a wronged man. "This is about the ongoing effort by the left in this country, wherever you find them, in the media, the Democrat Party, or wherever, to destroy conservatism, to prevent the mainstreaming of anyone who is prominent as a conservative," he said.

But with minimal effort, one can discern that the typical NFL owner is hardly a cheese-eating liberal. Many of them lean strongly Republican, if campaign contribution records are any indication.

Regardless of where their political sympathies lie, the NFL owners seem to know how to behave in public. Limbaugh's fame and fortune, by contrast, have been built by misbehaving, by repelling a large and growing part of the public. His summary blackballing was about class -- his lack of it, to be precise.

Understand, class is a matter of more than mere accumulated wealth.

Limbaugh is a savvy businessman who has done quite well for himself. Whatever stake he was going to buy in the Rams was probably a small fraction of his wealth. Yet Limbaugh attempted to play the snub up as an affront to the true Americans he thinks he speaks for. "(T)his is about the future of the United States of America and what kind of country we're going to have," he said.

On this point, we can only hope Limbaugh proves clairvoyant.

For if the GOP chooses to study the excellent example set by the NFL owners, they might realize that to be a viable party they have to actually attract and persuade people. To stand for something positive.

That would be good for American politics, and not so good for Limbaugh.

Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Write her at Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108-1413, or via e-mail at