Thursday, July 29, 2010
“There’s an old saying that life is a grindstone, but whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us,” Shirley Sherrod said, at the end of the now-famous speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for which she was fired, after her remarks got edited out of context by a far-right blogger trying to make the case that she was a “racist.”
Any fair-minded person who takes the time to see the full video of Sherrod’s remarks will reach the opposite conclusion.
The former rural development officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture eloquently described the ways in which the wealthy and powerful in this society use racial division as a wedge issue to keep the poor, and the powerless, at the bottom of the barrel.
One expects no better from Andrew Breitbart, who had previously taken down ACORN, the grassroots organizing group, with a similarly distorted tape.
But it was disheartening to see the ways in which those who should have risen to Sherrod’s defense, including Pacific Grove-raised NAACP President Ben Jealous and Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack, were so quick to throw her under the bus instead of give her a fair hearing.
Jealous, after initially describing the remarks as “shameful,” had to do an almost immediate about-face, admitting that he and others had been “snookered” by the 24-7 news cycle. He may have been distracted by the NAACP’s separate battles with the Tea Party, but the incident was disturbing nevertheless.
Vilsack apologized, and offered Sherrod another job within the department.
President Obama called Sherrod to express his personal regrets for the way it was handled, but anyone who thinks White House political advisers played no role in the hasty rush to judgment – or the subsequent damage-control efforts – isn’t living in the real world.
Politics, as we’re frequently reminded, is the art of the possible.
Elected officials are constantly weighing the costs and benefits of any course of action against the morality of their decision. We know from experience that the right choices are not always made, which accentuates the need to turn up the heat in the ongoing battle for social justice.
Too many examples come to mind to mention here, but a few may be worth noting.
This issue’s cover story by Assistant Editor Kera Abraham details how a longstanding effort to promote rooftop solar energy and energy efficiency in California – policies with the twin benefits of job creation and promoting energy independence – have been stymied by last-minute opposition from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The two government-sponsored enterprises seem to be so concerned about potential costs that they are directly opposing a policy that has been put forward by President Obama.
They are clearly more concerned with the political fallout of the foreclosure crisis than the long-term benefits of creating green jobs and a more sustainable economy. Whatever the motives, at the moment the long-awaited Property Assessed Clean Energy program was set to launch – advocates say the pilot phase alone could create 2,000 California jobs and jumpstart $450 million in energy retrofits – it’s at a standstill.
Meanwhile, the attempts to push a climate change bill through the Senate this summer have ended abruptly.
“Bowing to political reality,” The New York Times reports, “Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, said the Senate would not take up legislation intended to reduce carbon emissions… but would instead pursue a more limited measure focused on responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and tightening energy efficiency standards.”
“We know where we are,’’ Mr. Reid told reporters after reviewing the state of energy legislation with Senate Democrats and administration officials. “We know that we don’t have the votes.’’
It’s hard to envy the position of elected officials as they try to get a handle on the daunting set of problems with which they are confronted. But they asked for our votes, and need to stand up and fight for what they believe in.
We in the media also need to do a better job, rather than wrecking people’s lives with hasty coverage that legitimizes McCarthyite hit “journalism” as one news cycle runs relentlessly into the next.
At minimum, one hopes we can refrain from participating in the gratuitous damage inflicted on courageous souls like Shirley Sherrod, who has dedicated her life to making a difference to white and black people alike.
That seems like a teachable moment, as we decide whether we want to be ground down by adversity, or polish our skills and successfully fight back.