There is a reason why Henry Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and not the grandfather, a genius who not only founded the Ford Motor Co. but is also regarded as the creator of assembly line manufacturing.
Despite his unimpeachable place in history as one of the most important industrialists to ever live, the fact remains that Ford was an unrepentant anti-Semite and a bigot. We know this because he once purchased a newspaper in Michigan to espouse his hatred for and falsehoods about Jews.
Henry Ford II made a sincere effort to clean up granddaddy’s mess when he assumed control of the business in 1945. He began a lifelong campaign to support the worldwide Jewish community and developed the philanthropic Ford Foundation that led to President Richard Nixon awarding him the medal in 1969 — an occasion that his grandfather’s history of racism precluded him from receiving.
It was Ford whom I thought of when President Donald Trump honored conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh with the medal on Tuesday during the State of the Union address before Congress and a nationwide audience.
Limbaugh, 69, has announced that he is suffering from late-stage lung cancer. He is now a sympathetic figure who should be the recipient of your “thoughts and prayers.”
But he should not be the recipient of an award for those “who have made exceptional contributions to the security of the national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant or private endeavors.”
As with Henry Ford, there can be no possible re-writing of Limbaugh’s history that makes permissible the reconfiguring of his decades-long legacy of boombox bigotry.
Going back to the late 1980s, for three hours a day, five days a week, Limbaugh, whose audience exceeded 20 million at its peak, stoked racial hatred and division widely viewed as unhealthy. And more than any other marginalized group, Limbaugh painted a bull's-eye on African Americans.
In a 1990 interview with Newsday, Limbaugh acknowledged using the racist all-Blacks-look-alike trope on his show when he said of civil rights icon Jesse Jackson Sr., “Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?”
He also acknowledged telling a caller in his career as a Top 40 music host to “take the bone out of your nose and call me back.”
In 2007, El Rushbo famously said, “Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.”
In 2010, when former President Barack Obama signed a measure ordering the Department of Agriculture to pay thousands of Black farmers who had been denied federal loans between 1983 and 1997 solely because of their race, Limbaugh said on his radio show, “Folks, this is just reparations under a different name. That’s all this is.”
At the core of Limbaugh’s programming has been the continuous messaging to the nebulously defined “working-class whites” that white liberals were orchestrating a secret plot using Blacks as a Trojan Horse to steal away your American Dream.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom historically has been awarded to people like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks, people who lived their lives — and even lost them, as King did — trying to make the world better.
It was never meant to be awarded to someone like Limbaugh, who for millions upon millions of dollars, fomented racism, sexism and division. As the state of the union has grown seemingly more disunited, Limbaugh has simply ratcheted up the hate-mongering that has placed him financially among the nation’s 1%.
I want Limbaugh to beat this insidious disease that touches us all and that appears to have the upper hand on him. I felt sorry for him Tuesday night in the Capitol. There was no bluster. There was no golden microphone, and there was no — as he would describe himself — “talent on loan from God.”
He needs other things from God now.
What he doesn’t need — or deserve — is to be given a prestigious award that he’s not fit to receive.