It's been two weeks now since the sliming of a fine woman by Andrew Breitbart, FOX and the rest of the Republican lie machine, exposed a deep and damaging deficiency in the Obama administration. Usually by this time the far right media has kicked up some dirt and the near right (most all of the rest of it) has run with the further sliming. As so often seen when it's a matter of the Republican lie machine, the dirt doesn't have to be authentic. That hasn't been successful in the case of Shirley Sherrod and there are reasons for that.
The fact that the Republican lie machine have been using its own, quickly abandoned, slime against the Obama administration's handling of it should make the president stop and take notice.
Derrick Jackson's column this morning is about the teachable moment presented by this incident, one which is rare in today's media-political climate, one in which a good person stands up for herself and is vindicated. In the column Jackson quotes Robert Gibbs as saying that President Obama doesn't have to be “the teacher in every teachable moment.’’ Oddly, I agree with Gibbs. In this case Barack Obama is the one who should be doing the learning and applying the lessons taught by Ms. Sherrod to himself and his administration. Ms. Sherrod is the teacher and so impressive in her continuing to NOT go the instant celebrity route that the numerous times she has appeared, since the libel broke, hasn't diminished her moral authority. That is rare. You have to conclude that it's her character, her history that have protected her from that. It hasn't gone to her head.
Barack Obama shouldn't take this as a teachable moment he should take it as a learning opportunity. Seen in its entirety what Ms. Sherrod has said carries a number of extremely important truths.
“One of the hard things I found out, when they were dealing with me, was that there was no person of color in the inner circle who talked to me to hear my story or whom I could talk to,’’ said Sherrod, the Department of Agriculture’s director of rural development in Georgia who was fired for false charges of reverse racism.
She found a similar situation at USDA itself. In an interview with columnists and reporters at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, she said that about 15 percent of USDA’s Georgia employees are black in a state that is 30 percent black. They are mostly in lower-grade, lower-paid positions. She said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has pledged changes, “but I don’t know how you do it without black people in your inner circles,’’ she said. “The question has to be asked, where is the real commitment?’’
It is an important question, why the administration of the first black president should have to learn lessons about equal opportunity, equal access to government service and the hard reality of what it's like to be a small farmer, maybe if they called themselves "small businesses" they'd get some respect from the people in the inner circle of the administration.
The opportunity to admit that this presents moral imperative to change course in his administration is one Barack Obama must take if he is anywhere near as astute as he has been sold as being. He should listen to the lessons of her experience that Ms. Sherrod has unfolded in all it's non-elite, blue collar reality. It is, exactly, that level of reality, where most of us reside, that this administration seems to resist facing.
If he doesn't take the lesson, I doubt he will save his administration even if he is reelected. Aside from the lost opportunity to reestablish his moral credibility, the failure to take the lessons of this incident will also be confirmation that Barack Obama has ceded political authority to his opponents inside as well as outside of the Democratic Party. If, as I suspect he will be, he wins reelection due to the Republicans nominating someone so unacceptable that the voters will overlook the shortcomings of an Obama administration that continues on its present course, I suspect a second term will be as wounded as the second Clinton term was. And Bill Clinton didn't have the Bush II recession and two wars dragging him down as Barack Obama does.
One thing that Barack Obama could use this incident to do is to prod the Senate to passing more of the huge backlog of bills that have already passed the House, the part of the government that the Obama inner circle seems to have no respect for, even as they carry the water for the rest of the Democrats in the Senate and in his administration. As Jackon said:
She said if someone with her history can be treated as if she had no history at all, the Obama administration risks being oblivious to real racial rot. As the right screams about imaginary injustices to whites, ripped-off black farmers are still losing land. The Obama administration supports $1.2 billion in final payments to address historic USDA discrimination, but the Senate still has not approved the funds. She said the country is still on a path “where we may not have any black farmers left.’’
Let's see some real pressure in the Senate to get that real and outrageous history of discrimination against farmers ended and righted. Associating Shirley Sherrod would give it far more of a chance than Barack Obama could on his own. I'm not going to believe that this administration or the Democrats in the Senate have learned anything until that is addressed.
If he fails to take these lessons, we in the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party should face the fact that it's the leadership of the House of Representatives who listen to us, who really get us. We should get over the Senate and, if it is warranted by the facts and unavoidable, we should get over Barack Obama.