The initial smearing and subsequent vindication of Shirley Sherrod is hardly the first time that a quote was taken out of context in order to further a political agenda and it certainly won’t be the last. The sad affair serves as an object lesson to everyone in the media, old and new, of the importance of fully understanding a story before breaking it. Yet, while a heretofore virtually unknown official in the USDA will emerge from this fiasco with her head held high and her reputation intact, one can’t say as much when it comes to the Obama administration. The shabby treatment that the White House subjected this good lady to was embarrassing to say the least, from a knee-jerk dismissal through a presidential apology that fell entirely flat.
According to Fox, after she received an apology from the president himself, Sherrod said that she’s still not convinced that Obama fully supports her. Moreover, she expressed a desire to teach him some life lessons, adding that the president is “…not someone who has experienced some of the things I’ve experienced in life.” As more and more Americans are starting to realize, Barack Obama hasn’t experienced most of the things that the people he is supposed to be leading have experienced. The president is the product of a sheltered academic world that morphed into the fantasyland of liberal politics without any pause to discover what the average Joe and Josephine do for a living or how they think. His secluded, narcissistic life explains the two characteristics of Barack Obama and his administration that made their discreditable reaction to the Sherrod affair so inevitable: the president’s schizophrenic attitude about race and the administration’s refusal to put away their campaign planner and get down to the dirty and often thankless job of governing a nation.
It’s ironic that this so-called “post racial” president has done more to inflame the dying embers of racism in America than any president since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, not because of the color of the president’s skin – America was ready to, and did, embrace the deep symbolism of electing Barack Obama to the nation’s highest office – but because of the hue of his attitudes and that of those surrounding him. On the one hand, Barack Obama hopes that America can get past whatever vestiges of racism remain in this country. Americans may argue about how significant an issue that is today, but the overwhelming majority of us agree that is a worthy goal.
On the other hand, the president and his advisors continually inject racism into discussions that should have nothing to do with race. The perception, justified or not, is that this administration in continually trying to impose limitations in public discourse that are, de facto if not de jure, “separate but equal,” depending on one’s pigmentation. There’s a set of standards that applies to the Van Jones, Jeremiah Wrights and Henry Gates of the world, and another that applies to everybody else, from Tea Partiers to Fox News. In an ideal world, presumably even in the nirvana that liberals dream about, people would be judged strictly as individuals rather than pre-judged as a member of a particular group. Yet, the Obama White House is obsessed with the group and doesn’t appear to give much thought to the individual.
The backlash has been fierce on all sides. Polls show that more African-Americans are digging in their heels in defense of “their” president, while white independents – the group that Obama desperately needs if he stands a chance to win re-election in 2012 – are deserting him in droves. The Hopeful Healer has thus become the Great Divider; no one has parted a sea into angry factions this completely since Moses. The “administration of the eternal campaign” understands this of course, so when they were presented with an opportunity to demonstrate their racially equitable bone fides by denouncing a supposed African American racist, they rushed to take decisive action. The message was clear: we have zero tolerance for racism of any kind, no matter that color of the offender’s skin. See there – we’re ready to defend pale-skinned types too!
It might have worked, but for that little problem of determining the facts of the case. While America may not be as post-racial as we hoped, the nation is certainly post-ironic and there’s no better proof of that than an administration that will bend over backwards to extend due process to terrorists, yet can’t be bothered to do a little due diligence before it tries to destroy the career and reputation of a woman who has labored long and hard in government service.
The wonderful thing about Shirley Sherrod’s now famous speech is that she effectively catalogued a personal journey that should set an example for every American. She started out as a person who viewed the world in starkly black-and-white terms, then came to realize that those issues truly don’t matter, transforming herself and building a friendship with a farmer and his family whom she helped save. Her story is inspiring and educational. It was wrong and reprehensible for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government to rip that story out of context. (Full disclosure: I am a contributor to Breitbart’s “Big” sites). It was equally wrong for other media outlets to run with the story without doing their homework.
While there is no defending any of those outlets who rushed to condemn Sherrod, that kind of reaction is sadly typical of the state of the world in this information age. Everyone rushes to get the next big story out before the other guy, no matter the political persuasion of the outlet. But, the White House should be held to a much higher standard. The leader of our nation and those who work for him shouldn’t pile on when an apparently disturbing story surfaces. We expect that they will carefully and soberly investigate the facts and then – and only then – take appropriate action. Doing so takes time, time during which this administration, or any administration, will have to face accusations of stonewalling, dragging their heels and conducting a cover up. That goes with the job. Presidents who understand that they are supposed to govern fairly and wisely know that. They develop skins thick enough to allow them, more often than not, to do the right thing in the long run. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has about the thinnest skin of any president in recent memory. His inept response to the Sherrod affair is further proof that Obama cares far more about the way things look than about how they actually are.
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