He's a Riot! Rush to Judgment II

Rush Limbaugh is something of an expert on the incitation of riots. Of course, he isn’t inciting riots when he dreams of them disrupting the Democratic National Convention in Denver and destroying the Democratic Party, but was he dreaming of nailing Obama with the charge of inciting riots on his talk show a year ago?

On his June 6, 2007 show, Limbaugh ripped Obama’s June 5 speech at Hampton University in Virginia, where the senator discussed what he called the “quiet riots” fostered by disconnection, hopelessness and despair in the forgotten communities of the country:

Those "quiet riots" that take place every day are born from the same place as the fires and the destruction and the police decked out in riot gear and the deaths. They happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. Despair takes hold, and young people all across this country look at the way the world is and believe that things are never going to get any better. You tell yourself, "My school will always be second rate." You tell yourself, "There will never be a good job waiting for me to excel at." You tell yourself, "I will never be able to afford a place that I can be proud of and call my home." That despair quietly simmers and makes it impossible to build strong communities and neighborhoods. And then one afternoon a jury says, "Not guilty" -- or a hurricane hits New Orleans -- and that despair is revealed for the world to see.

And it made me think about our cities and communities all around this country, how not only do we still have scars from that riot and the "quiet riots" that happen every day—but how in too many places we haven't even taken the bullet out.

Much of what we saw on our television screens fifteen years ago was Los Angeles expressing a lingering, ongoing, pervasive legacy -- a tragic legacy out of the tragic history this country has never fully come to terms with. This is not to excuse the violence of bashing in a man's head or destroying someone's store and their life's work. That kind of violence is inexcusable and self-defeating. It does, however, describe the reality of many communities around this country.

Though “That kind of violence is inexcusable and self-defeating” sounds an awful lot like a denunciation of violent rioting -- such as, say, overturning cars or burning down houses -- Limbaugh saw fit to denounce Obama, insisting, “This guy was inciting, he was inciting riots…to talk about a quiet riot that is brewing out there it is dangerous, it is reckless.”

Limbaugh went further. “Can you imagine if a Republican candidate talked about something equivalent to this; there’s a quiet riot brewing? It would be all over the place, headlines and so forth, about how this is irresponsible, trying to incite violence in America.”

I, for one, can’t imagine what would happen if a GOP blowhard said there would be, let alone should be, a riot in the works. Irresponsible? Hardly. Newsworthy? Never. Inciting? Nope. It’s called dreaming. -- Joe Horton

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun