Weak Back Hand
When our new overlord Andrew Breitbart says jump, the White House says, "how high?" Kevin Drum:
Hoo boy. Conservatives apparently aren't going to back down from ever more overt appeals to racial resentment this summer. BigGovernment.com "broke" a story yesterday about a speech given a few months ago by Shirley Sherrod, USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development, at an NAACP Freedom Fund dinner. In it, Sherrod tells a story from 24 years ago about not helping a white farmer as much as she could have because she was "struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farm land."
The point of this story, told in a public venue, was that she quickly realized that she had done wrong. "That's when it was revealed to me that it's about poor versus those who have. It's not so much about white...it is about white and black but it's not, you know...it opened my eyes."
Naturally, the administration panicked like a bunch of frightened little children:
Sherrod told CNN on Tuesday that she was told repeatedly to resign Monday afternoon after the clip surfaced. "They harassed me," she said. "I got three calls from the White House. At one point they asked me to pull over to the side of the road and do it because you are going to be on Glenn Beck tonight."
Sherrod said the calls came from Cheryl Cook, USDA deputy undersecretary for rural development. "The administration was not interested in hearing the truth. They didn't want to hear the truth," she said.
Sherrod said she and the white farmer she referred to in the video, Roger Spooner, became friends. Spooner's wife, Eloise, confirmed to CNN that she and her husband considered Sherrod friends. "She helped us save our farm by getting in there and doing everything she could do," Eloise Spooner said. "They haven't treated her right."
Sherrod said she told the story to make the point that at the time she thought that white farmers had the advantages because of their race but she learned that was not the case. "The point was to get them to understand that we need to look beyond race," Sherrod said.
Breitbart had edited the video, of course, and he refuses to release the whole thing, naturally. But that didn't matter in this case any more than it mattered in the ACORN case. It's nothing but a play to America's racist lizard brain.
And today the wife of the farmer went on CNN to say that this woman had been instrumental in helping them keep their farm and that she considered her a good friend. I suppose it would have been too much to ask that the administration at least checked that much out before they hung this woman out to dry.
After ACORN and now this, I really have to wonder if the Democrats and Brietbart aren't actually working together on a whole Sistah Soljah campaign. It's a little bit hard to see why anyone over 10 years old would fall for the same ruse over and over again. (Hey, maybe their focus groups show that simply alienating liberals isn't going to impress those swing voters so they need to alienate the black vote too...)
But I also have to wonder if they know what the optics of this are. If two-bit sociopathic wingnuts can scare them to this extent with obviously doctored videos, what happens when they see a real threat? Are they going to flap their arms like penguins and run around in circles screaming "they're coming to get us, run for your lives!!?" At this point, that doesn't seem entirely ridiculous.
Seriously, this shows tremendous weakness. Andrew Brietbart is a con artist and and right wing entertainer whose antics should always be met with a cynical laugh and a shake of the head. To fall for his schtick more than once is political malpractice.
Update: Greg Sargent urges caution because it's not clear that the White House itself actually ordered the firing. Perhaps not. But there is no doubt that Tom Vilsack fired this woman, issuing a statement that they have zero tolerance for discrimination and it's obvious that they did not wait to get all the facts before they did this --- Vilsack is a member of the cabinet. The buck still stops at the White House.
Update II: Vilsack takes responsibility and White House backs hIM:
Yesterday, I asked for and accepted Ms. Sherrod’s resignation for two reasons. First, for the past 18 months, we have been working to turn the page on the sordid civil rights record at USDA and this controversy could make it more difficult to move forward on correcting injustices. Second, state rural development directors make many decisions and are often called to use their discretion. The controversy surrounding her comments would create situations where her decisions, rightly or wrongly, would be called into question making it difficult for her to bring jobs to Georgia.
Our policy is clear. There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA and we strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person. We have a duty to ensure that when we provide services to the American people we do so in an equitable manner. But equally important is our duty to instill confidence in the American people that we are fair service providers.
"Her decision 'rightly or wrongly" will be called into question" because some right wing hitman put out an edited tape that makes her sound as if her point is the opposite of what it is, so she had to be fired.
They are telling wingnuts everywhere that all they have to do is gin up a phony controversy (especially about a black person, apparently) and the administration will fire them so as not to shake confidence that they are "fair service providers."
This is sheer cowardice.