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The Expansionist
Friday, July 23, 2010
 
Lessons from the Sherrod Affair. The folly of a "rush to judgment" is one of the lessons to be drawn from the firing of U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod because of an edited videotape that misrepresented what she had said in public, in order to portray her as an anti-white racist, whereas the full tape shows that she had an epiphany 24 years ago (when an employee of a George state government entity, not USDA), that enabled her to rise above her own prejudicial inclinations.
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'Fire in haste, repent at leisure' (an alteration of an old saying, "Marry in haste, repent at leisure") might also apply.
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But the indignation has gone a tad far. We need to bring back balance.
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Yes, the behavior of the Department of Agriculture in forcing Ms. Sherrod to pull off the road, when she had been driving somewhere, and text-message a resignation to the Department, was preposterous, ill-considered haste.
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But once the facts of the case had been made known to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, he publicly repented, apologized, and offered Ms. Sherrod another job. I haven't heard why he didn't just reinstate her to the job she was forced to resign from. Nor do I know if the job offered as replacement was a step down, a step up, or a simple lateral move. Still, Vilsack did NOT repent at leisure, but acted quickly, once the scam had been revealed. That is to his credit, so we should be glad of that and thus not kick ourselves too hard over his initial bad judgment. He could have pridefully tried to cover his ass and justify his unjustifiable behavior. There are lots of places and lots of governmental functionaries where that would have been the response, and Ms. Sherrod would have remained falsely accused and out of work. So let's congratulate ourselves on having an Administration that quickly saw what the right thing was to do, and did it.
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Second, the scam held for less than 24 hours, before it all unraveled. That's good too.
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Plainly the head of the NAACP should NEVER have issued a statement without contacting the local branch where the speech in question took place, to ask if the video, as edited, fairly represented what Ms. Sherrod had said. Once the local branch notified him that the edited tape was UNfair, Ben Jealous, President of the national NAACP, did apologize for his own rush to judgment. A blogpost by Dr. Jonathan David Farley on The Huffington Post today says Jealous should resign. It provocatively concludes:
NAACP president Ben Jealous should resign for slavishly [interesting choice of word, no?] serving right-wing racists, and the now embarrassingly useless NAACP should disband.
I wouldn't go that far. I hate to sound moderate, because any regular reader of this blog will know that I am an extremist. But it might be enuf for Jealous to have been humiliated by rightwingers. Perhaps he now knows not even to try to reach out to the Radical Right with any kind of mollifying rhetoric. Perhaps a successor to a resigned Jealous would be more circumspect when the next attack on a black official by rightwingers rears its ugly head, but still be inclined to try to be 'measured' in his own rhetoric. The NAACP needs to act with zeal, fervor, indignation. And perhaps Mr. Jealous will brook no further bull from the Radical Right, in the fashion of "Once burned, twice shy".
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As for the lessons of believing the worst about someone without due diligence, I think many people in media are now on notice that they CANNOT take at face value just everything a rightwing blogger or 'news organization' like Fox 'News' says, but will know to do their own investigation, from primary sources, before passing along rightwing propaganda.
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There is one last point I'd like to make: Ms. Sherrod should have REFUSED to resign, but gone to the media herself and threatened legal action for wrongful discharge. She may be too sweet for her own good — and ours. She had the kind of national attention to expose fraud and cowardice in the Federal Government, which lower-prominence people unfairly treated do not have. Her refusal to accept injustice would have emboldened other people to stand up for themselves, even against the might of a massive Federal bureaucracy. No one should ever consent to be wronged, if they can do anything about it. Some people might need to hire a lawyer, which they cannot afford to do, but all she had to do was contact the Georgia NAACP group before which she made her remarks, or CNN, or the Atlanta Constitution. As it turned out, those last two groups did expose the truth, without financial cost nor years in court for Ms. Sherrod.
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What would the USDA have done if Sherrod had said, "No way in hell am I resigning! I did nothing wrong, and the full tape will show that I was making exactly the opposite point, that I had an epiphany and grew from this challenge to my prejudices. If you fire me, I will sue, and not just to get my old job back. Once the truth comes out, it will be you who is humiliated, not me."
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In a Special Comment on Wednesday nite's Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, Olbermann berated the Obama White House for trying to remake President Obama into a bland moderator between the factions in today's political landscape. "It is a freakin' war out here!", said Olbermann, and the President has got to stop trying to make nice with his enemies, who are the Nation's enemies too.
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I concur. Obama gains nothing by trying to be above the fray. He's never going to win over his enemies. All he does, thru inadequate counterattack, is encourage further first-attacks. That is not in the Nation's interest. What we actually need now is a pit bull. No lipstick.
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(The current U.S. military death toll in Iraq, according to the website "Iraq Coalition Casualties", is 4,413 — for Israel.)



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