Tom Foreman | BIO
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/OPINION/07/21/navarrette.sherrod.race/smlvid.shirley.sherrod.phone.cnn.jpg caption="The real issue here, however, is not racism. It’s reaction-ism." width=300 height=169]
If you notice political punditas walking around with neck braces this weekend, it may be because they were whiplashed by the story of Shirley Sherrod. She’s the Agriculture Department official who was given the bum’s rush out of her job after she made a speech that was clipped by a blogger, that was posted online, that seemed to be racist, that lay in the house that Jack built. Or something like that.
Ag Secretary Vilsack (who up until now was pretty much just the answer to a current affairs trivia question) apologized for unceremoniously heaving her from the loft. Seems her comments were taken out of context; that the speech was made long ago, and it was actually about the need to overcome racism in all its nasty forms. Imagine.
The real issue here, however, is not racism. It’s reaction-ism. For years, Washington and the political media have ramped up the feeding frenzy mentality that passes for news in the same sense that BP passes for an environmental group. The appetite for scandal begat a hunger for instant scandal begat a craving for anything that even looks like scandal, even if the facts haven’t fallen into the furrow.
After all, why coax the seed of truth, when you can pile up the fertilizer of sensationalism? The water falls from the blogosphere, or is piped in by political schemers, many of whom have only a passing familiarity with the truth even on their best days. Their real passion lies in winning. Both sides have pursued this kind of instant, public pillorying with such gusto that each is now terrified of it.
So something like the Sherrod story splashes across the headlines, the damage control police start ringing their alarm bells, and before there is even reasonable time for facts to be determined and weighed, rash action is launched. (As an aside, notice how quickly Washington can move when political image is at stake instead of, oh say, jobs or the Gulf of Mexico.)
I’m neither defending nor condemning Ms. Sherrod, because I’ll readily admit I don’t know enough about her case. But others had no problem choosing their course of action, with no more information. And as a result, the Ag Department, the Administration, and many in the DC media are reaping a bitter harvest.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/OPINION/07/21/navarrette.sherrod.race/tzleft.ruben.navarrette.sdut.jpg caption="Navarrette: Appalling how fast NAACP, administration threw Sherrod under bus for politics" width=300 height=169]
What does the rhetorical feud between the Tea Party and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have to do with the case of Shirley Sherrod, a black former Agriculture Department employee who resigned this week under pressure from the Obama administration?
Everything, if you ask Sherrod.
"[The NAACP] is the reason why this happened," Sherrod told CNN's Tony Harris. "They got into a fight with the Tea Party, and all of this came out as a result of that."
Before we get to "all of this," props to Attorney General Eric Holder. Last year, in a speech during Black History Month, Holder argued that the United States is "a nation of cowards" that can't talk about race. He was right. And now it turns out Americans are even more cowardly when it comes to talking about racism - real or alleged.
Randi Kaye | BIO
CNN Wire Staff
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://www.cnn.com/video/politics/2010/07/21/sot.wh.gibbs.sherrod.2shot.cnn.640×360.jpg caption="Sherrod says she accepts Vilsack's apology" width=300 height=169]
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday he apologized to Shirley Sherrod for forcing her to resign from her government job in Georgia based on incomplete and misleading reports of a speech she gave.
Vilsack told reporters that he alone made the decision regarding Sherrod, with no White House involvement.
He spoke to Sherrod earlier Wednesday and said he asked for her forgiveness, which she gave. Vilsack also said he offered Sherrod another job in the department, and she was taking a few days to think about it.
Special to CNN
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/OPINION/07/21/friedersdorf.sherrod.race/tzleft.friedersdorf.courtesy.jpg caption="Conor Friedersdorf says U.S. ignores tough racial issues to focus on individual flaps" width=300 height=169]
In the midst of a prolonged recession, two wars, and an ongoing environmental catastrophe, it is unfortunate that inconsequential controversies about race are among America's most widely discussed subjects.
The relationship among blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and other ethnic groups is important, especially in a country where slavery, Jim Crow laws, and their legacy remain relevant.
What vexes are the particular aspects of race that we focus on. Ignored are the tough issues: social and economic inequality, prison rates, percentage of births out of wedlock, inequities in the education system, fatherless families, etc. Instead we obsess over any individual instance of racism, actual or alleged, so long as it morphs into controversy with political implications.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/07/21/white.house.usda/story.gates2.gi.jpg caption="President Obama, police Sgt. James Crowley and professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. held a beer summit in the wake of the controversy surrounding Gates' arrest." width=300 height=169]
White House aides said Wednesday they do not expect President Obama to call Shirley Sherrod, the black former USDA employee who resigned after a video clip of her discussing a white farmer surfaced earlier this week.
Obama also likely will not show up to explain things at a White House briefing, as he did during the controversy surrounding the arrest of professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. last year.
"No more beer summits here," one aide said. After Gates' arrest, Obama, Gates and police Sgt. James Crowley met at the White House for beers.