Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Question For Barack Obama

Really, this is getting kind of old.

Last year, it was Van Jones, the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He was so radical that he was determined to coordinate efforts to train and employ low-income people in green, private sector jobs. After Glenn Beck's crusade on Fox News, Jones was fired by the White House.

Then it was ACORN. After Andrew Breitbart released a video purporting to show a young man dressed as a pimp and a young woman as a prostitute convincing ACORN workers to help smuggle illegal immigrants into the country, Fox News led Beck and most of the American right on a crusade agains ACORN. All government funding was stopped and ACORN eventually disbanded. Investigations since then determined the video was doctored, the man (James O'Keefe) and the woman (Hannah Giles) were dressed normally and were rebuffed by the community organization. It was a scam, cooked up by Breitbart and promulgated by Fox News. Too late, though: Glenn Beck already had his scalp.

And now, Shirley Sherrod, a state director of rural development for the United States Department of Agriculture. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has accepted the resignation he demanded of Ms. Sherrod, a black woman, following release of a video produced anonymously but first appearng on BigGovernment.com, a website run by Andrew Breitbart- that Andrew Breitbart. In the short video (in some context, below)- released without context- Sherrod admits, to an NAACP audience, not giving a white farmer (and his wife) "the full force of what I could do" because "I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land." As if according to script, Fox News prime-time conservative hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity enthusiastically attacked Sherrod Monday.

It may seem simple but it isn't:

1) The video released was only a snippet. The full video (way below, the relevant part beginning approximately 16:40) was obtained by the NAACP and became available only tonight, on YouTube. (The NAACP's national director, Ben Jealous, initially had vociferously condemned Sherrod's remarks but retracted the statement and personally apologized to Sherrod.)

2) Notwithstanding the clear implication of the video when it was released and of the right-wing attacks on Sherrod, the incident which Sherrod described did not occur since she was appointed to the USDA in January, 2009. Instead, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which interviewed her today, reported

Sherrod noted that few news reports have mentioned that the story she told happened 24 years ago -- before she got the USDA job -- when she worked with the Georgia field office for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund.

"And I went on to work with many more white farmers," she said. "The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it's about the people who have and the people who don't. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race."

3) While the right seems to believe that Sherrod is a racist, the white couple at issue, Roger and Eloise Spooner, need some convincing according to The Washington Post:

"I don't know what brought up the racist mess," Roger Spooner told CNN's "Rick's List." "They just want to stir up some trouble, it sounds to me in my opinion."

Spooner says Sherrod accompanied him and his wife to a lawyer in Americus, Georgia, who was able to help them file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which ultimately saved their farm.

"If it hadn't been for her, we would've never known who to see or what to do," he said. "She led us right to our success."

Spooner's wife, Eloise, remembered Sherrod as "nice-mannered, thoughtful, friendly; a good person."

She said that when she saw the story of the tape and Sherrod's resignation on television, "I said, 'That ain't right. They have not treated her right.' "

But this was not another dismissed government employee or unemployment statistic. Mother Jones notes

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.

In his statement Monday accepting his employee's resignation over an incident occurring 24 years earlier working for a non-profit organization, Vilsack self-righteously proclaimed "I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person." On Tuesday, Vilsack cryptically told CNN that he "didn't speak to anyone at the White House. ... I made this decision, it's my decision. Nobody from the White House contacted me about this at all."

So the President of the United States, who does not officially relieve of duty any one below cabinet level, did not fire Shirley Sherrod. Vilsack says he wasn't contacted "about this," leaving open the possibility he was contacted about firing Sherrod. (She actually resigned, though not voluntarily.) And perhaps he "didn't speak to anyone at the White House"- Rahm or another official may not have been at the White House at the time.

Whether or not someone representing the White House encouraged Vilasck to sack Sherrod, President Obama, supporting the Agriculture Secretary's decision, must be held accountable. The President yet again demonstrates cowardice. Panic is not an effective strategy against a media bully like GOP TV, which smells ever more blood with each instance of capitulation. Economic stimulus, health care "reform," financial "reform"; Van Jones, ACORN, Shirley Sherrod: when, Mr. President, are you going to stand up to the right and show some backbone?

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