[Marxism] Dixie Thoughts -- and other things

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 21 07:25:16 MDT 2010

Hunter Gray wrote:
> High marks to Shirley Sherrod and Farmer Roger Spooner and
> spouse.
> And a flunking grade to the White House administration.  [Some
> credit to national NAACP which could quickly admit its mistake
> and, I'm sure, will do much better next time around.]

Wednesday, Jul 21, 2010 08:30 ET
War Room
Tom Vilsack: Disgrace
By James Doty

In the wake of the grievously unjust firing of Agriculture 
Department official Shirley Sherrod, it’s clear that agency head 
Tom Vilsack might be a hack, and he’s definitely a coward.

One day after Andrew Breitbart posted a truncated video of 
Sherrod’s allegedly racist speech before the NAACP, she was out of 
a job. If the White House pushed for her exit, as Sherrod claims, 
then Vilsack appears to have served as a diligent functionary in 
carrying out the task. If the decision was entirely his own, as 
Vilsack and the White House maintain, then he’s responsible for 
ending the career of a longtime farm-aid veteran based on an 
abbreviated video circulated by a discredited conservative 
provocateur. That level of rash gutlessness is not what you’d 
expect from a one-time presidential aspirant (even one who dropped 
out of the race 11 months before the Iowa caucuses).

If Vilsack’s decision to fire Sherrod was misjudged, his rationale 
for the termination was downright dishonest. In an interview with 
CNN, he explained his reasoning as follows: "When I saw the 
statements and the context of the statements, I determined that it 
would make it difficult for her to do her job." He reiterated that 
his decision was based on Sherrod’s "statements and the context of 
those statements."

That’s nonsense, of course. Vilsack's decision to fire Sherrod 
ignored not only the specific context of her remarks but the 
larger, historical significance of her story.

As the full video of Sherrod’s speech makes clear, the "context of 
the statements" had nothing to do with racial bias against whites. 
The narrative in fact, is entirely the opposite: that, for a time 
in her life, Sherrod pledged to help "black people only," but that 
following her efforts to save Roger Spooner’s farm -- in 1986 -- 
she realized that "the struggle is really about poor people," not 
about race.

That’s the theme of Sherrod’s speech, one she hammers home 
repeatedly throughout her (extremely repetitive) 45 minutes at the 
lectern: "Working with [Spooner] made me see that it’s really 
about those who have versus those who don’t. . . . They could be 
black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me 
realize I needed to work to help poor people, those who don’t have 
access the way others have."

(And continuing: "Poor whites and poor blacks are in the same 
boat. . . . There is no difference between us. . . . God helped me 
to see that it’s not just about black people, it’s about poor 
people. . . . I’ve come a long way. I knew that I couldn’t live 
with hate . . . I’ve come to realize that we have to work together 
. . . we have to overcome the divisions we have . . . we have to 
get to the point where . . . race exists but it doesn’t matter.")

So Vilsack’s claim that he reviewed the "context" of Sherrod’s 
remarks is simply a fiction. Just as bad is his cynical reference 
to the USDA's history of discrimination as an excuse for Sherrod's 

Some background: In the 1990s, African-American farmers brought a 
class action suit against the USDA, alleging that the agency had 
systematically discriminated against minority aid applicants since 
the Reagan administration disbanded the USDA’s Office of Civil 
Rights in 1983. The USDA eventually settled for about a billion 
dollars, and a subsequent suit was settled this year for another 
billion dollars (although payment is contingent upon an 
appropriation from Congress, which has not yet been forthcoming). 
The backdrop for Sherrod’s story, then, was the routine injustice 
faced by minority farmers as recently as 15 years ago, injustice 
which, in many cases, has yet to be remedied.

Vilsack referred obliquely to the agency’s historical troubles in 
his statement explaining Sherrod’s firing, alluding to "the sordid 
civil rights record at USDA." But perversely, Vilsack offered this 
"sordid" record as a justification for Sherrod's termination, 
explaining that an agency with racial problems can’t afford the 
appearance of racial bias -- the appearance of racial bias 
evidenced, in Vilsack's mind, by Sherrod’s speech explicitly 
decrying racism.

Vilsack's contorted reasoning and the stench of unfairness around 
the whole fiasco guarantee that Vilsack will face a fusillade of 
criticism in the coming days. And justly so. He deserves scorn and 
more for being goaded into an irresponsibly hasty decision based 
on intellectually dishonest reasoning and incomplete facts. 
Breitbart’s blatantly flimsy (and demonstrably false) allegation 
of racism is another example of the right’s obsession, 
increasingly intense, with bias against whites.

But it’s also an unseemly example of Democratic panic in response 
to scurrilous racial allegations. It's Breitbart's role as an 
agitator to try and make trouble (this is, after all, the guy 
whose biggest mission is to prove that John Lewis wasn't on the 
receiving end of racial epithets during the healthcare debates). 
It's the Obama administration's duty, though, to respond 
surgically to these attacks, not hack off a non-gangrenous limb. 
Vilsack's willingness to be led by the nose by the most craven 
parts of the Republican base doesn't speak well to his leadership 
skills, and his simultaneous slander of a subordinate says even worse.

If someone from the USDA needed to be excused from the USDA, it 
wasn't Shirely Sherrod.

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