Sowing the Seeds of Race, Reaping the Whirlwind of Racism

07/22/2010 05:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Back in June of 2008, I posted several pieces on Huffington suggesting that the Anybody but Clinton (ABC) coalition was pushing Barack Obama into the Democratic Primaries because they realized that his entry would draw black voters to him, and away from Hillary. Until then, black Democrats had been major Clinton supporters, thanks in large part, to their closeness to Bill Clinton, who was nicknamed "the first black president."

Blacks make up about 15% of all Democratic voters, and if Hillary had retained their support, she would almost certainly have won the Democratic primaries, with at least 60% of the votes. But Obama's entry gave black voters another alternative, and it was their votes that won him the nomination. During the campaign, Obama supporters played the race card on several occasions--once against Joe Biden, then against Bill Clinton.

I don't believe that Obama supporters ever considered the racial effects of his election if he failed to totally satisfy his voters' expectations. Neither did they know that on Inauguration Day Obama would be facing two wars, the deepest recession and the greatest deficit in our history. No president since Abraham Lincoln had taken the oath at a less auspicious time. Nor did they fully recognize the latent racism that was ready to erupt and the racists who would inflate any Obama administration blunders. Finally, they seemed unaware of the abundance of racist bloggers and that FoxNews would, as the number one news network, report blog news as if it came from reliable sources, thereby directing the attention of millions of Americans to stories they otherwise would never have heard of or cared about.

Such was the case on Monday, when a right wing blogger, Andrew Breitbart, obtained a copy of the Shirley Sherrod tape, cut part of it from its context, and posted it on his website. Bill O'Reilly, picked up the tape, played it on his show, and called for Ms. Sherrod's immediate resignation. But, Ms. Sherrod had already resigned. You know the rest of the story, even before O'Reilly's show aired Monday night, Sherrod had first been placed on administrative leave and then fired, with the approval of the White House. Even the NAACP condemned her.
Then, on Tuesday morning, Ms. Sherrod appears on CNN, tells her side of the story, and shows the whole tape, which proves the point of her speech was her overcoming her racism and helping white farmers to save their land, just as she had helped black farmers. Her cause is not hurt when the 96 year old farmer whose land she helped save, and his family, tell the world how grateful they are for her help. Suddenly, she is a hero, but it isn't until Tuesday night that the White House informs Secretary of Agriculture, Vilsack, that he should reconsider.
It isn't until Wednesday that Vilsack apologizes and offers Ms. Sherrod a new and better position at the Agriculture Department. O'Reilly also apologizes on Wednesday.

The Obama Administration has waffled repeatedly in racial situations. Last year, it was the notorious White House summit conference between Harvard Professor Henry Gates and the Cambridge police sergeant, James Crowley, who had arrested him, after the President said that the police had "acted stupidly" when they arrested him. And now, the "nonpartisan" Commission on Civil Rights is attempting to reopen its case alleging Black Panther intimidation at a Philadelphia polling place in the 2008 Presidential Election, after the Justice Department has already settled the matter with an injunction against a Panther member. The conservatives on the Commission think the Panthers got off too easy.

The Obama Administration seems to have no overall strategy in dealing with racial issues at a time when accusations of racism flow from both sides of the political aisle. It has acted hastily, often thoughtlessly and sometimes even incoherently.

When I worked at CNN, the salesmen used to refer to Ted Turner's business strategy as "Fire, Aim, Ready." This week, Shirley Sherrod was fired, seemingly with no aim except to get the story off the front pages, and no plan readied to handle the fallout.

In the midst of what I regard as a "whirlwind of racism," the White House needs a better strategy than that.