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Is there anything to be learned in the Don Imus firing for people who debate and advocate for progressive causes? Yes. There is a take-home message which I will discuss in a moment. First, however, there is a lesson here for Americans regarding hypocrisy and prejudice.

It is my belief that we all harbor a toxic brew of prejudiced stereotypes by which we make judgments on the essential “goodness” of others. Is there anyone out there whose mind is so beautifully vacuous that they have no preconceived opinions? Isn’t there a little Imus in all of us? Let’s see. Take the following quiz:

Do you make assumptions about the decency of others when you see the following: an NRA sticker on a pick-up truck; a thin, smoking woman in a fur; a panhandler; luxury cars parked at an all-white WASP country club; an atheist with an ACLU card; an obese man using food stamps in a supermarket check-out line talking on a cell phone; a bearded man holding a Koran at the check-in line at the airport; a male hairdresser; a Hummer with a magnetic yellow “support the troops” ribbon; an Irish bartender; a televangelist asking for donations; or a comment by Dallas Woodhouse.

If your thoughts were absolutely pure reading that list (particularly the last one) then by all means be outraged with Imus. Meanwhile, the rest of us should take a long, hard look at ourselves and our prejudices. We have a lot of work to do. In my opinion, the only ones who should be legitimately “outraged” over this are the women of the Rutgers basketball team.

Unfortunately, the likelihood that the Imus flap will start a “national dialogue” on race gets more remote every day. The 24 hour news cycle has already exhausted the Virginia Tech shootings, the Gonzales testimony, and the Edwards haircut. This week we will be focused on Sanjaya Malakar, Iraq war funding, and…well , you get the idea.

Now for the take-home message for progressives. The Imus and Duke lacrosse stories remind us that bigotry is pervasive in our country. I’m too cynical to believe that making Don Imus a sacrificial lamb will change the underlying prejudicial attitudes in America. And that is precisely why we should focus on institutional (i.e. policy) solutions. One way to keep the playing field level for women and minorities is through progressive education and health policies. But the most important way to guarantee equal opportunity is to defend and preserve our civil liberties. And the most important of those is freedom of speech. Imus’s comments were odious, but irrelevant. His dismissal will do nothing to advance race relations in America or make society less vulgar.