Editor's note: Ron Powers is the author of "Mark Twain: A Life" (Free Press) and "Tom and Huck Don't Live Here Anymore: Childhood and Murder in the Heart of America" (St.Martin's Press). He is a native of Hannibal, Missouri.
(CNN) -- To sculptor E. Spencer Schubert, Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley and the members of the Missouri Legislature:
Gentlemen and ladies, don't do this.
Put the whole thing away before it is too late and the stain becomes permanent.
Consult your consciences and your individual and collective sense of honor. The better angels of your nature, if you like. I believe these inner voices will tell you that Rush Limbaugh has forfeited his claim, perhaps legitimate at one time, to be commemorated with a bust in the state Capitol's Hall of Famous Missourians. As a proud native of this state, I appeal to each and all of you to halt the process and assure the nation that Missourians know the difference between fame and infamy, and between accountability and idolatry.
This is not about Rush Limbaugh's political views, although many in these times of fractured good faith will inevitably refuse to believe it. If it were only about his politics, and if someone wanted to finance a full statue of him astride a Missouri mule and bolt it to the top of the Gateway Arch, I would not object, though I might not like it very much. Free speech is free speech.
But free speech in this country, by enlightened tradition, has its boundaries. These boundaries were created in large part to protect private citizens from falling victim to public humiliation through fraudulent smears and lies.
Beginning with his broadcast of Feb. 29, and continuing on for days, Limbaugh crashed those boundaries, fell face-first into a mud puddle of his own making, and deeply soiled his already questionable legacy. By now the particulars of his abusive spree — his gratuitous, slanderous and misogynist airwave assault on the young law student Sandra Fluke — are part of American pop-cultural legend, as evidenced by the flight of scores of his sponsors and waves of revulsion rolling in from all corners of the nation.
This is not political. This is personal, as only epithets like "slut" and "prostitute" can be personal. This is an unprovoked besmirching of person-hood. It calls out for repudiation.
Are the Missourians most empowered to exact this repudiation likely to act in the historic interest of their state? Their statements so far are dismally feckless.
The sculptor Schubert is quoted as saying that "I take my responsibility very seriously," abstaining from the chance to expand on his concept of "responsibility." He added that his criteria for accepting commissions was "whether or not they are artistically interesting." This pre-empts any discussion of art as a moral (or amoral) force, and also begs the question of how "artistically interesting" is the Limbaughian countenance. Let it go, and let Schubert sculpt.
The real gatekeeper here is Speaker Tilley, who dreamed up the Hall of Famous Missourians, got it installed in the people's Capitol building and apparently runs it like his own private wax museum. Tilley's justification for ignoring Limbaugh's vicious attack, and the real pain and outrage it visited upon millions of American women, was as follows: "It's not the 'Hall of Universally Loved Missourians,' it's the Hall of Famous Missourians." And the state Capitol doesn't stand for Jeffersonian enlightenment and respect for human dignity, it just ... stands. Another roadside attraction. Maybe Donald Trump will want to buy in.
Or maybe ... just maybe ... Speaker Tilley or someone else will come to their senses, halt this travesty of honor and save Missouri from lasting embarrassment.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ron Powers.