A big item in the news this week was the showcasing of excerpted comments made by Shirley Sherrod to the NAACP Freedom Fund. The excerpts showed Sherrod (who is black) talking about in the 1980’s she was working for a non-profit organization helping farmers fight foreclosure, the first time she had to help a white farmer and how she decided to help him just enough to tell her boss that she tried and referred him to a white lawyer so one of ‘his own kind’ could help him. The excerpt was aired on a right-wing website and caught on the major news services quickly.
Before checking on the facts or questioning Sherrod, the NAACP condemned her remarks (even though they were at a NAACP event), she was called by either the White House or the Department of Agriculture and ordered to resign her government job via her Blackberry. No wasting time there. Sherrod said the order came from the White House, but Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack took credit/blame for the decision. In time the entire speech came out and the untold part of Sherrod’s story was how she stepped in to help the farmer save his farm a few months later when the white lawyer wasn’t helping him. She went on in that speech to say that the real struggle is not between black and white but between the haves and the have-nots.
When the entirety of Sherrod’s speech came out (you can read the text of the speech here), the NAACP apologized, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack ( a former Iowa Governor) fell all over himself to not only apologize and offer Sherrod her job back, but now she has been offered a better job. This offer has been backed by the White House. I don’t know why she deserves a better job from the government because of this. Did she become more qualified because she was bullied into resigning? If Vilsack wants to hire her and pay out of his own pocket, that’s fine by me, but this is a poor use of public money to reward her for Vilsack’s incompetence.
It’s no surprise for me that Vilsack finds himself in the middle of a big flip-flop. When he was the governor of Iowa seeking his second term, he voted for a very anti-liberal bill making English the official language of Iowa. But after he was re-elected and was trying to advance himself to be John Kerry’s vice-presidential candidate, he started apologizing profusely for signing the bill now that he was playing to a new audience. He said he was talked into signing the bill by his staff because 80% of Iowans supported it and he apologized “personally and for the people of my state”. While I’m pleased that the ex-Governor knows so much more than 80% of the people he was elected to server that he could apologize for us, I’m glad that 80% of all Iowans didn’t think he should have stuck his head up his rear end because he may have suffocated. Vilsack not only is missing the courage of his convictions, he has neither courage nor convictions.
This story makes everybody but Sherrod look stupid. The right wing web site looks deceitful, the NAACP and the White House look so concerned about perception that justice flies out the window not once, but twice. And the news media comes off as so concerned about sensationalizing the story that they couldn’t be bothered to check the facts. The story has since completely disappeared from the news, which I find interesting since the original coverage was so ‘in your face’.
Sherrod may be on to something about the haves vs. the have-nots. While the people she worked for were willing to obliterate her career in public service for a speech about her actions 25 years ago, but the late Senator Robert Byrd was allowed to sweep his career as a Klu Klux Klan organizer and leader as long as he could deliver billions and billions of public aid dollars to his home state of West Virginia.