Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is dithering, waffling, and foot-dragging on what should be a no-brainer. And that's the immediate reinstatement of Shirley Sherrod to her post as Agriculture Department's director of rural development in Georgia. He wronged Sherrod, a dedicated public servant, by grossly overreacting to the phony, doctored, and politically self-serving right-wing connived hit tape of a speech that Sherrod gave to a local NAACP banquet back in March that purported to show her admitting to trashing a white farmer and then refusing to help him.
Despite irrefutable proof that this was a lie, a blatant effort to hit back at the NAACP and civil rights leaders for putting the heat on tea party racism, and a grotesque sully of the name and reputation of a hard-working, efficient, and loyal government program administrator, the best Vilsack could say is that he'll conduct a review to ensure that services are provided in a fair and equitable manner.
This is the worst kind of cowardice and bureaucratic cover your backside gibberish, and Vilsack knows it. If he had conducted the review in a fair and equitable manner before panicking and trying to appease the rightwing smear machine, Sherrod would still be on the job, and the issue would have quickly blown over.
In fact, even if Sherrod did what she was alleged to have done, there's still a little thing called due process which requires an investigation, diligent fact-finding and corroboration, a careful weighing of the factual evidence, and then giving the accused a chance to present their case before making a decision about their fate. None of that happened. Sherrod was summarily kicked to the curb, her name drug through the media and public mud. Her sterling reputation as an official who did her job and won consistent high praise from the legions of farmers of all races that she has aided was tainted.
Now that we know Vilsack doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to quickly and publicly person up and right a colossal wrong, President Obama should. He should order Vilsack to do the right thing and apologize to Sherrod and immediately reinstate her. This would do two things. It would remove the taint that the Obama administration nervously listened to the din from the conservative echo chamber about bogus black racism and made Sherrod the sacrificial lamb. Sherrod contended that she got calls from the White House demanding her resignation. Secondly, it would send the message that the White House will not be bullied, intimidated, badgered, and ultimately hit the panic and appeasement button every time the bogus shout is made that the administration is tilting toward minorities.
The Sherrod debacle was more than just a put up job by the right. It was a textbook lesson of how organized, agenda driven, and right-wing ideologues will stop at absolutely nothing to shame, embarrass, and vilify the Obama administration using the one tried and true tactic it knows will inflame: race baiting. They've honed that ploy to a fine art over the past four decades, and the Sherrod flap shows it still works magnificently.
Sherrod had the double misfortune. Not only was she targeted by conservatives for ouster. She was used by them as a pawn to hit back at the NAACP and civil rights organizations that have rightly put much heat to the GOP and tea party activists for their very real racism and perpetual race card play.
President Obama can undo the damage that they've done, and the cowardice of Vilsack in the face of their assault on Sherrod. He can order her reinstatement, with full apology for the wrong and hurt she's suffered.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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