Frank Rich is by far my favorite 'mainstream' op-ed journalist in this country and as I've said many times before I also think he is the best damn WRITER to be found in all of American politics today. The following article brilliantly demonstrates once again exactly why I feel the way I do...
July 24, 2010
There’s a Battle Outside and It Is Still Ragin’
By FRANK RICH
New York Times
THE glittering young blonde in a low-cut gown is sipping champagne in a swank Manhattan restaurant back in the day when things were still swank. She is on a first date with an advertising man as dashing as his name, Don Draper. So you don’t really expect her to break the ice by talking about bad news. “The world is so dark right now,” she says. “One of the boys killed in Mississippi, Andrew Goodman — he’s from here. A girlfriend of mine knew him from summer camp.” Her date is too busy studying her décolletage, so she fills in the dead air. “Is that what it takes to change things?” she asks. He ventures no answer.
This is just one arresting moment — no others will be mentioned here — in the first episode of the new “Mad Men” season premiering tonight. Like much in this landmark television series, the scene haunts you in part because of what people don’t say and can’t say. “Mad Men” is about placid postwar America before it went smash. We know from the young woman’s reference to Goodman — one of the three civil rights activists murdered in Philadelphia, Miss., in June 1964 — that the crackup is on its way. But the characters can’t imagine the full brunt of what’s to come, and so a viewer in 2010 is left to contemplate how none of us, then or now, can see around the corner and know what history will bring.
This country was rightly elated when it elected its first African-American president more than 20 months ago. That high was destined to abate, but we reached a new low last week. What does it say about America now, and where it is heading, that a racial provocateur, wielding a deceptively edited video, could not only smear an innocent woman but make every national institution that touched the story look bad? The White House, the N.A.A.C.P. and the news media were all soiled by this episode. Meanwhile, the majority of Americans, who believe in fundamental fairness for all, grapple with the poisonous residue left behind by the many powerful people of all stripes who served as accessories to a high-tech lynching.
Even though the egregiously misleading excerpt from Shirley Sherrod’s 43-minute speech came from Andrew Breitbart, the dirty trickster notorious for hustling skewed partisan videos on Fox News, few questioned its validity. That the speech had been given at an N.A.A.C.P. event, with N.A.A.C.P. officials as witnesses, did not prevent even the N.A.A.C.P. from immediately condemning Sherrod for “shameful” actions. As the world knows now, her talk (flogged by Fox as “what racism looks like”) was an uplifting parable about how she had risen above her own trials in the Jim Crow South to aid poor people of every race during her long career in rural development.
The smear might well have stuck if the white octogenarian farmer saved by Sherrod 24 years ago was no longer alive and if he didn’t look like a Norman Rockwell archetype. Only his and his wife’s testimony to her good deeds on CNN could halt the lynching party. Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture who fired Sherrod without questioning the video’s patently spurious provenance, was far slower to reverse himself than the N.A.A.C.P. Good for him that he seemed genuinely chagrined once he did apologize. But an executive so easily bullied by Fox News has no more business running a government department than Ken Salazar, the secretary of interior who let oil companies run wild on deepwater drilling until disaster struck. That the White House sat back while Vilsack capitulated to a mob is a disgraceful commentary on both its guts and competence. This wasn’t a failure of due diligence — there was no diligence.
Even now, I wonder if many of those who have since backtracked from the Sherrod smear — including some in the news business who reported on the video without vetting it — have watched her entire speech. What’s important is not the exculpatory evidence that clears her of a trumped-up crime. What matters is Sherrod’s own story.
She was making the speech in Georgia, her home state, on March 27, the 45th anniversary of her father’s funeral. He had been murdered when she was 17, leaving behind five children and a wife who was pregnant with a sixth. Sherrod had grown up in Baker County, a jurisdiction ruled by a notorious racist sheriff, L. Warren Johnson, who was nicknamed “Gator” for a reason. Black men were routinely murdered there but the guilty were never brought to justice. As Sherrod recounted, not even three witnesses to her father’s murder could persuade the grand jury to indict the white suspect.
Sherrod had long thought she’d flee the South, but had an epiphany on the night of her father’s death. “I couldn’t just let his death go without doing something in answer to what happened,” she said. So she made the commitment to stay and devote her life to “working for change.” She later married Charles Sherrod, a minister and co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, whose heroic efforts to advance desegregation, including his imprisonment, can be found in any standard history of the civil rights movement.
None of this legacy, much of it accessible to anyone who wanted to look (or ask), prevented the tarring of Shirley Sherrod last week. And it all unfolded while the country was ostentatiously marking the 50th anniversary of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
If we are to learn anything from this travesty, it might help to retrace the racial soap opera that immediately preceded and provoked it. That story began on July 13, when the N.A.A.C.P. passed a resolution calling on the Tea Party to expel “racist elements” in its ranks. No sooner had Tea Party adherents and defenders angrily denied that such elements amounted to anything more than a few fringe nuts than Mark Williams, the spokesman and past chairman of the Tea Party Express, piped up. He slapped a “parody” on the Web — a letter from “colored people” to Abraham Lincoln berating him as “the greatest racist ever” and complaining about “that whole emancipation thing” because “freedom means having to work for real.”
Williams had hurled similar slurs for months, but now that the N.A.A.C.P. had cast a spotlight on the Tea Party’s racist elements, he was belatedly excommunicated by the leader of another Tea Party organization. In truth, it’s not clear that any group in this scattered movement has authority over any other. But one thing was certain: the N.A.A.C.P. was wrong to demand that the Tea Party disown its racist fringe. It should have made that demand of the G.O.P. instead.
The Tea Party Express fronted by Williams is an indisputable Republican subsidiary. It was created by prominent G.O.P. political consultants in California and raises money for G.O.P. candidates, including Sharron Angle, Harry Reid’s Senate opponent in Nevada. But Republican leaders, presiding over a Congressional delegation with no blacks and a party that nearly mirrors it, remain in hiding whenever racial controversies break out under their tent. “I am not interested in getting into that debate,” said Mitch McConnell last week.
Once Williams was disowned by other Tea Partiers, Breitbart posted the bogus Sherrod video as revenge under the headline “Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism.” To portray whites as the victims of racist blacks has been a weapon of the right from the moment desegregation started to empower previously subjugated minorities in the 1960s. But its deployment has accelerated with the ascent of a black president. The pace is set by right-wing stars like Glenn Beck, who on Fox branded Barack Obama a racist with “a deep-seated hatred for white people,” and the ever-opportunistic Newt Gingrich, who on Twitter maligned Sonia Sotomayor as a “Latina woman racist.”
Even the civil rights hero John Lewis has been slimed by these vigilantes. Lewis was nearly beaten to death by state troopers bearing nightsticks and whips in Selma, Ala., just three weeks before Sherrod’s father was murdered 200 miles away in 1965. This year, as a member of Congress, he was pelted with racial epithets while walking past protesters on the Capitol grounds during the final weekend of the health care debate. Breitbart charged Lewis with lying — never mind that the melee had hundreds of eyewitnesses — and tried to prove it with a video so manifestly bogus that even Fox didn’t push it. But he wasn’t deterred then, and he and others like him won’t be deterred by the Sherrod saga’s “happy ending” as long as the McConnells of the conservative establishment look the other way and Fox pumps racial rage into the media bloodstream 24/7.
“You think we have come a long way in terms of race relations in this country, but we keep going backwards,” Sherrod told Joe Strupp of Media Matters last week. She speaks with hard-won authority. While America’s progress on race has been epic since the days when Sherrod’s father could be murdered with impunity, we have been going backward since Election Day 2008.
We don’t know what history will bring next. But we might at least address the chilling question prompted in “Mad Men” by the horrific events of 46 summers ago — “Is that what it takes to change things?” — before our own summer comes to a boil again.
The more Obama tries to avoid this issue in general the more he will be forced to deal with it. It's called SOCIAL REALITY and it ain't going away--no matter what he or his scared advisors think...A real leader must LEAD--not run away when things get tough or uncomfortable. Until Barack learns that essential and fundamental lesson he and his administration will continue to be haunted and manipulated by the poisonous legacy of American racism and the lethal doctrine of white supremacy...
WHITE HOUSE MEMO
Persistent Issue of Race Is in the Spotlight, Again
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
July 22, 2010
New York Times
WASHINGTON — It was exactly one year ago on Thursday that President Obama plunged into a thicket of racial politics by declaring that a white police officer in Cambridge, Mass., had “acted stupidly” in arresting a black Harvard University professor in his own home. Suddenly, the president whose election suggested the promise of a postracial future was thrust into the wounds of the past.
Not much has changed.
Mr. Obama sought Thursday to tamp down yet another racial uproar, this one over his administration’s mishandling of the case of Shirley Sherrod, a black Agriculture Department official who was dismissed based on a video clip of remarks — taken out of context — that appeared to suggest she had discriminated against white farmers. One day after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized profusely to Ms. Sherrod and offered her a new job working on race relations for the agency, Mr. Obama offered his own apology.
During a seven-minute telephone call, White House officials said, the president shared some of his own personal experiences, and urged Ms. Sherrod to “continue her hard work on behalf of those in need.”
Later, in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Mr. Obama weighed in publicly for the first time. “He jumped the gun,” the president said, referring to Mr. Vilsack, “partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles.”
That, however, is unlikely to be the end of it for Mr. Obama, who has struggled since the beginning of his presidency with whether, when and how to deal with volatile matters of race. No matter how hard his White House tries to keep the issue from defining his presidency, it keeps popping back up, fueled in part by high expectations from the left for the first black president, and in part by tactical opposition politics on the right.
The Sherrod flap spotlighted how Mr. Obama is caught between these competing political forces, and renewed criticism from some of his supporters, especially prominent African-Americans, that he has been too defensive in dealing with matters of race — and too quick to react to criticism from the right.
For many liberals, Ms. Sherrod’s hasty dismissal carried strong echoes of the ouster of Van Jones, an environmental adviser to the president who was forced to resign after Fox News focused attention on some of his past work and statements, and his decision to sign a petition in 2004 questioning whether the Bush administration had allowed the terrorist attacks of September 2001 to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East.
“I think what you see in this White House is a hypersensitivity about issues of race, that has them often leaning too far to avoid confronting these issues, and in so doing lays the foundation for the very problem they would like to avoid,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an advocacy group here.
It is not as if Mr. Obama does not have expertise in the matter. While he was running for president he made what even his critics acknowledged was a serious and thoughtful effort to address race relations, during a speech in Philadelphia in March 2008. It followed a storm of controversy about racially inflammatory statements made by his pastor.
And as Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University, notes, Mr. Obama wrote an entire book on race: “Dreams From My Father,” in which he dealt with his own complicated biracial history and struggle to fit into a country that sees things in black and white. Professor Dyson, who is working on a book about Mr. Obama and race called “Presidential Race,” says the president at times seems either unable or unwilling to talk about it.
“You’ve got one of the great intellects on race in the presidency, and yet he is hamstrung, there’s a gag order,” he said. “Now some of that gag order is self-imposed, and some of it is at the behest of nervous white Americans who are fearful that Mr. Obama may racialize the presidency, so he’s got a legitimate concern that he doesn’t get pigeonholed. But the tragedy is that we need his leadership.”
The White House rejected the notion that he has not provided leadership, or is avoiding a conversation on race. “I don’t think anyone has confronted this issue more directly than the president,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser.
Still, the Sherrod controversy has renewed calls for Mr. Obama to tackle race head-on. After the Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., was arrested last summer, Mr. Obama convened a much-publicized “beer summit” at the White House — a moment of reconciliation for Mr. Gates and the arresting officer.
In interviews, both Mr. Henderson and Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a Harvard law professor who represented Mr. Gates, suggested the president should now convene a national conference on race relations. Ward Connerly, a black conservative who leads an institute devoted to fighting racial preferences, endorsed the idea.
“This president has never wanted to have his fingerprints on the issue of race, and I can understand why — if you’re a self-identified black man and you’re running for president, you know how treacherous the waters can be,” Mr. Connerly said. “But I think the president can, if he’s masterful — and he certainly is — introduce this subject in a way that he’s doing it as our leader, not as our black leader.”
Mr. Axelrod, though, threw cold water on the notion, saying Mr. Obama has “pressing matters that are significant to all Americans,” like the economy.
On Thursday, Ms. Sherrod stuck to her assertion that the White House had played a role in her ouster, even as Mr. Obama’s advisers said that was not the case. The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was once again peppered with questions about whether the Sherrod controversy was “a teachable moment,” and if so, what the lesson was and whether Mr. Obama should be the teacher.
“I don’t think you have to have a teacher,” Mr. Gibbs replied, “for this to be a teachable moment.”
This article was reported by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Shaila Dewan and Brian Stelter and was written by Ms. Stolberg.