Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lindsey Graham, Shirley Sherrod, and the death of thoughtfulness

Today we give props to Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, who -- for this week at least -- appears to be the only thoughtful person in Washington.

Graham was the only member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to cross party lines in the vote to confirm Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court. All 12 Democrats voted with Graham to confirm; the other six Republicans all voted no.

It's fair to say Graham is no fan of President Obama. He stumped for John McCain in the 2008 campaign, and voted against Obama's stimulus package and health-care bill. But he has studied what the framers of the Constitution intended for the Supreme Court nomination process. And Graham believes that as long as the candidate is qualified, the president's choice should stand -- regardless of party.

That last paragraph might have sounded weird if you read a lot about politics. Because you don't often see a political story where someone makes a decision regardless of party -- much less that they'd studied it first.

Around the same time Tuesday that Graham was explaining why he supported Kagan, a more typical Washington story was breaking.

Shirley Sherrod, who ran a Department of Agriculture office in Georgia, gave a speech back in March at an NAACP banquet in Douglas, Ga., not far from where I grew up. A Web publisher named Andrew Breitbart put out a segment of video from the speech. In the segment, it sounds like Sherrod admits she deliberately didn't do her best to help a white farm family in trouble. Breitbart's cut features a special appearance at the end from Geraldo Rivera, so you know it's quality journalism.

Problem is, when the full video was released, it's clear that Sherrod did exactly the opposite. The whole thing is 45 minutes long -- you can also read the key parts of the transcript.

It turns out Sherrod did end up helping the family, and told the story as an example of how she struggled with her own prejudices and overcame them. That's exactly what we want in a leader, right? Someone honest enough to admit her flaws, and capable enough to learn and grow?

Um, no. What we really want, at least in Washington, is somebody who won't give a sound bite that will help the other side.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asked for (and got) Sherrod's resignation Tuesday, after the short version of the speech had come out but before the long version. I've actually spent a little time with Vilsack; he was on a fellowship in Boston when my wife and I were up there. He seemed like a decent guy. But in this case it looks like he acted without knowing or caring about the context of the speech, just so the Obama team could salvage a bit of the 24-hour news cycle.

So let's try to sum up: A right-wing blogger clips a woman's words to twist them exactly backwards. (Breitbart, for his part, said this on Fox News: "I could care less about Shirley Sherrod, to be honest with you.")

And a Democratic official, instead of backing her up or even waiting for the full story, dumps her on the side of the road.

In other words, a woman who was humble and brave was run out of her job because of arrogance and cowardice. Nothing that happened was because a principle was at stake, or because it mattered to the business of America. No one involved thought about anything but winning.

And so, at least for today, let's appreciate Lindsey Graham. He took a difficult issue, thought about it for more than five seconds, and went against his own party to do what he thought was best for the country.

As Shirley Sherrod could tell you today, that's a rare thing.

UPDATE, 6:25 p.m.: Vilsack has apologized and offered Sherrod a new job with the USDA.


Anonymous said...

[Insert angry, bitter, facts-be-darned, partisan ad hominem comment here]

Anonymous said...

Did you watch the entire video or did you read the entire transcript of the video? You are as guilty of making premature judgements as those you accuse. Yes, it was a message of reconciliation with past racist behavior, but she not only reeks with a bias that is still very much alive, she perpetuates this bias by merely standing in front of this NCAAP group. Your constant apologist-persona 'stories', parading as 'journalism', does this medium a disservice. Grow up.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


Gotta disagree with your comment about Sen. Graham "studying what the Framers intended with the Constitution." Ms. Kagan's answer to Sen. Coburn's question about the government's power to compel the purchase of fruits and vegetables demonstrates that Kagan holds a view that government is limitless and unchecked, precisely the opposite of both the words of the Constitution and the supporting writings of the Framers.

Were the government's power truly intended to be limitless, there would have been no point in writing a Constitution which enumerates specific powers (a concept further reinforced by the Tenth Amendment, which I hope you have studied more than Sen. Graham and Ms. Kagan apparently have).

Anonymous said...

Racist femalte hater of white males.

White farmers?

Why do Africans all hate white farmers who feed their fat butts?

Rhodesia or South African ring a bell? White farmers there have been murdered or jailed by the 1000s and 1000s and their land seized and look at these pathetic nations now. Pigs.

Dont cast your pearls before swine ...

Unknown said...

I'm a mature female voter who agrees that kudos go to Lindsey Graham, SC's Republican senator. Although Graham's retreats from the gutsy stuff he starts disappoints me, I can still applaud his bravery in departing, once in a while, from the monotone No-strums of Mitsy McConnell and the “No-Sir-ees”.

Being a No-Sir-ee would be scary to most of us mature, unemployed professionals. While we would jump at any job that would hire us, we would sense something wrong with a high paying job that only requires us to

--wear suits everyday
--learn 2 stock phrases,such as UhMERKunPEEpul,""SmawBIDnis"
and then,
--just say "No" on everything that came up vote a vote,including legislation to help save your own elderly mother from bankruptcy.

Besides smelling to high heaven of horse manure, such a job might be

a) an online scam, or
b) part of a sting operation to catch people who might try do an honest day's work, a marked departure from the “No-Sir-ee” script, which must be adhered to strictly on pain of political death.

But I digress. Lindsey Graham is one of a dying breed: a Republican who is not afraid to come up with legislation of his own, and to work with others to craft answers to perplexing problems, even though he, too, says "UhMERKun people ad nauseam.

Anonymous said...

I guess Tommy missed the part where Sherrod said she "sent him to one of his own kind." That was a PRESENT DAY comment Tommy, not an ancient one. Tommy also conveniently leaves out the part where the NAACP condemned her visciously even though the commnents where made at a NAACP meeting and they had access to the entire tape and transcript. Of course that is typical Tommy twisting a story to meet his agenda.

Anonymous said...

The most frightening piece of this story is that it says Table Tom is married. Hopefully he is smart enough not to procreate. All we need is more narrow minded, hate spewing, agenda driven, character assailing little Tommys running around.

The Anti Tommy said...

Tommy, by the looks of your picture I think you need to push AWAY from the table big fella.

Garth Vader said...