Thursday, July 22, 2010

Race Disgrace

One thing that's become amply clear over the last few days as the exasperating saga of Shirley Sherrod played out under the media's glare is just how charred, shattered, and broken our sense of discourse has become in this country.  From shills like Andrew Breitbart to mouthpieces like Fox News to the very people currently ensconced in the White House who you'd think would finally, at long last, know better by now.  There's not one group in this whole mess that isn't complicit in smearing this woman's reputation -- perhaps irreparably -- and every single one was guided not by any higher principle or duty to the truth, but instead by the most naked, shameful kind of partisan hackery.

After last week's NAACP resolution calling on the leaders of the Tea Party to tamp down on some of the racism that's shown up at many of their gatherings, so desperate was Breitbart to create a false equivalence between the apparent racism of the Tea Party and the perceived racism of the NAACP that he released a video of USDA worker Shirley Sherrod at an NAACP function in March that had to be  chopped and channelled into something that would -- bereft of context -- prove out his hypothesis so that he and his ilk could proudly thump their chests and slap each other five, and say "See?  We're not the racists...they are!"

Which is exactly what played out on Monday and Tuesday as this story, propelled by Breitbart's libelous starter pistol, worked its way through the daylong Fox News gastrointestinal tract before finding legs  with the rest of the media.  And before long, the Sherrod video started showing up on Twitter feeds and Facebook walls and personal blogs, usually with some variation of "bigot" appended to her name.  And all because of a snippet of footage that, in its entirety, proves the exact opposite.  When called out on the evident deception, Breitbart did what all charlatans do and absolved himself of any blame.

And you know what?  Maybe he is blameless.  After all, no one did bother to check that context.  Not before it was too late, anyway.  Instead, the Obama folks did the one thing they've proven so adept at over the last eighteen months -- they cut and they ran.  Rather than stand on principle, rather than say  "No more," the panicked word came from on high via Agriculture Secretary Vilsack that Sherrod must resign.  Why?  Because otherwise it might land the topic on Glenn Beck.  Perish forbid.  It didn't occur to them that Breitbart had done the exact same thing before -- successfully -- and was up to the same tricks. It didn't occur to them that Fox News would attack no matter where they ended up on this issue (as evidenced by the very source of their angst).

So transparently vile was Breitbart's textbook mountebankery that even someone like former Bush (II) speechwriter David Frum, whose credentials as a conservative are hardly in question, lambasted those in the conservative media for propagating a story that began to crumble under the weight of its own mendacity from almost the instant it was released, based solely on it confirming a narrative they had already invested in.  "Media bias in action," said Frum.  And he's right.  Such is the world we've made for ourselves.  Where partisan hackery on either side of a perceived ideological divide trumps conscience, trumps courtesy, and trumps courage.

I'm not sure what the endgame here is.  I suppose it's too much to hope -- pray -- that those in the Obama Administration, starting with the man in the big chair, realize that those who oppose him have shown that they will stand against him on any policy or position, even those yet to be proposed, simply because he supports it.  They've made made clear repeatedly -- and in this case most reprehensibly -- that their opposition to him is perpetual and unanimous whether the administration acquiesces or not.  So he can keep tilting at those windmills of a mythical consensus, or he can get down to the business of governing -- of doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do.  At this point, I'm wondering if that's even possible.  I wonder how Shirley Sherrod feels.

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