Opinion » Bill Cope

The Sherrod Charade

Is there any honor left in the right?

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Before the incident fades from public memory as everything important seems to do, let us review the case of Shirley Sherrod to see if there's anything we missed.

But where to start? At the murder of her father in '65 by a man who escaped justice because he was white?

No. That crime was an abomination, but I see no relevance in it to the proceedings that had America caught up in a crackle of controversy for a week. It is still relevant to Sherrod, undoubtedly, and it is further proof that a person of superior character, integrity and moral strength can rise above even the worst injustice and pain. But I fear what Sherrod was put through has very little to do with superior character, integrity or moral strength.

Then let us begin our timeline 21 years later, at the speech Sherrod gave to an NAACP gathering in Georgia. Bear with me as I am examining ground already well-stomped, but one never knows where he might come across the slightest of clues—(a partial footprint; the tattered remains of a Turkish cigarette; a craven, lying, racist coward slinking through the underbrush, poking around for whatever fragments of evil shit he might use to advantage)—that could provide the one essential ingredient from which all other events flow.

1986: In the pivotal speech, Sherrod speaks of her time administering USDA loans to beleaguered Southern farmers: how she was approached by a white farmer who couldn't help but treat her like an uppity you-know-what; how she entertained the notion that she could direct the government's clout to benefit farmers of her own race more so than farmers of the other variety; how she ultimately didn't use her position to favor black farmers because she had come to the transcendent understanding that poor, trodden-on people were all under the same foot, no matter their color, and that racial reconciliation meant moving beyond past injustices and pain.

July 19, 2010, 24 years on: Andrew Breitbart, a blogger already darling to the right for his part in the smashing of the largely black community activist group ACORN (on the weight of evidence that has since been proven to be false and manipulated, wouldn't you know) puts a version of Sherrod's speech on his blog. I say "a version," because we learn within a day that Breitbart—who shall henceforth be identified on this page as "Scuzz"—offers none of the speech that culminated in talk of racial reconciliation and moving beyond past injustices. His version only indicates Shirley Sherrod was prejudiced against whites and that she performed her job guided by that prejudice. Nor is there any mention that the film was made more than two decades ago.

Same day, July 19: Shortly—in that mysterious way the entire right-wing media seems to know the same things at the same time—Fox News and the conservative blogdom are passing on Scuzz's testimony of an Obama official who had been caught red-handed bragging to a roomful of other black people about how she had screwed white farmers out of government assistance. Both Scuzz and Fox News—which shall henceforth be identified on this page as "Scum"—were quick ... very, very quick ... to point out this film proves there is racism rolling out of the African-American community. (Scuzz and Scum have been particularly sensitive to the charge of racism, as the tea-bagger rabble—with whom both are inseparably linked—has recently been accused of harboring racist elements. It has long been a tactic of the right to defend their own brutishness with the argument, "Hey, everybody else is just as bad as we are!")

Even more July 19: By the end of the day, Sherrod is out of a job and has had a resignation forced on her by members of President Barack Obama's administration. Tom Vilsack, her boss at the Department of Agriculture, explains they could not tolerate her racist behavior, and it is hinted that some higher-ups in the White House played a role in her fall.

July 20: As a more complete story begins to emerge, it is clear Vilsack and any other administration officials involved sacked Sherrod prematurely. The full, unedited tape shows her intentions were never to promote a racist agenda, but to overcome racist agendas. The farmer to whom she had supposedly done such a great injustice comes forward to insist Sherrod saved his farm and that they have remained friends these many years. Attention shifts to the administration's over-reaction.

July 21-23: The phrase "thrown under the bus" is dusted off to become the cliche of the day. There follows much talk of "learning moments" and "racial dialogue" and speculation runs rampant that Obama's team is as skittish as kittens when it comes to right-wing smear tactics. The week ends with Sherrod famous and admired, the administration tripping over itself to apologize for its rashness, and the reputable media examining Obama's reticence to confront issues of race face to face.

Yet amongst all the angst and chatter, something was lost, don't you feel? Something fundamental to this entire episode. The crux of the matter, without which it would have never happened. What is it? What the hell is it? Let me think ...

: Oh yeah. The lie. The big lie that set it all off. The lie Scuzz was happy to tell, and Scum was happy to spread. We have grown so accustomed to lies coming from the likes of Scuzz, Scum and the rest of the scurrilous right-wing media vermin that we pay attention only to the aftermath. It's like ignoring a bomb, then discussing the dust it raised. One has to wonder how much more of this we can tolerate.

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