Critics Blast White House for Shirley Sherrod Firing

Shirley Sherrod
CBS

There's no excuse for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's decision to fire former USDA employee Shirley Sherrod or for the White House's endorsement of the decision, according to liberal commentators, who suggest the move has disquieting implications for the administration.

The racially-charged episode has also prompted the Congressional Black Caucus to weigh in. The group calls Sherrod's forced resignation "troubling" and says Vilsack overreacted before getting all the facts.

The USDA asked Sherrod to resign on Monday after a conservative blog released an edited video of remarks she gave at an NAACP conference. The edited video gave the impression Sherrod admitted to discriminating against a white farmer.

Her full remarks, however, made clear she was relating a story from two decades ago -- long before she joined the USDA -- and that she ultimately learned an important lesson to disregard race. The wife of the farmer in question stated yesterday that Sherrod is a "friend for life" who helped save their family farm.

Sherrod said yesterday that the USDA, at the behest of the White House, pressed her to resign without listening to her side of the story or taking the time to review the remarks she gave to the NAACP. Vilsack said this morning he would reconsider his decision, but yesterday he held his ground even as the facts about the incident emerged. The White House claimed it played no part in Vilsack's decision but that it supported it.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Wednesday called on the administration to apologize for Sherrod's treatment, the Associated Press reports.

The Congressional Black Caucus said in a statement that the group "continues to believe that Ms. Sherrod was unfairly asked to resign, without due process and should be reinstated immediately. There are many individuals still serving in the Department of Agriculture who were responsible for years of discrimination against African American farmers."

The CBC also said there should be a national dialogue on race.

"Last November, we held a forum on race in Washington, D.C. to begin the discussion," the statement said. "The basis for Ms. Sherrod's resignation is another example of why we must not sweep race under the rug. Rather, we must come together as a nation and recognize that we do not live in a post-racial era and that, while difficult, we must confront these issues head on with clarity and without fear."

Jamelle Bouie of the liberal American Prospect concurred that Americans were trying to sweep race under the rug. He said the incident vindicates Attorney General Eric Holder, who came under fire last year for saying the United States was "a nation of cowards" on matters of race.

Bouie took the administration to task for not rising above the fray.

"I understand that a lot of Americans feel really uncomfortable talking about race, but that's no excuse for the week we spent debating whether the NAACP is racist against white people, or the fact that the Obama administration punished a dedicated federal employee for the 'crime' of speaking honestly about race," Bouie said. "It's been almost two years since America collectively patted itself on the back for electing a black president. And since then, we've proved conclusively that we are a nation of cowards when it comes to race. I'm just wondering when we're going to finally grow up?"

Greg Sargent, a liberal blogger for the Washington Post, said that Vilsack and the White House owe people an explanation for why Sherrod was forced to resign.

"We need to hear his justification for the decision to ax this woman before all the facts were in, on the strength of nothing more than an Andrew Breitbart smear," Sargent writes. "People should also demand that the White House weigh in publicly on what happened here. The White House has only discussed this via anonymous leaks, and this morning, officials are conveniently leaking word that the White House prodded Vilsack to reconsider Sherrod's firing. That's nice, but was the White House told in advance that the firing was about to happen, and if so, why did it allow the firing to proceed? This effort to 'distance' the White House from this mess is unsightly at best."

Jed Lewison of the liberal blog DailyKos writes that it's unwise for the White House to try to simultaneously support Vilsack's position and deny responsibility for it.

"Obviously, Vilsack fired her out of the misguided belief that Breitbart had turned her into a political liability," he writes. "But not only is that immoral, it's stupid; the backlash against the unjustified dismissal of Shirley Sherrod will dwarf whatever teabagging nonsense Breitbart could have drummed up."

Nate Silver of the political blog FiveThirtyEight says if the administration ultimately refuses to offer Sherrod her job back, it will show the White House has a "bunker mentality" that has been a common flaw among less successful presidencies.

"Although the mistakes over Sherrod may not be of the same magnitude as, for instance, the mistakes made in the Vietnam Era, it nevertheless seems that the only reason not to re-hire is that it would involve admitting you'd screwed up in the first place," he writes. "I wonder about the state of mind of a White House that has chosen this course of action and how that bodes for navigating the tough waters that they and the country are facing."

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