All In The Past

Digby on Shirley Sherrod, whose father was murdered in 1965 by a white man who wasn’t indicted:

Far too many people are acting as if this woman wasn’t a living witness to the horrors of Jim Crow and the fallout of 200 years of racist history and instead believe that she’s nursing ancient grievances. Her life is treated as the forgotten detritus on the trash heap of history, as if it’s all over, a museum exhibit.

It’s critical that 1965 become ancient history for a party that owes its current existence to a strategy of embracing those who were on the wrong side of the civil rights struggle. Similarly, it’s critical for them that a discussion of the fuckups of the last decade becomes a taboo subject. When your past is shameful, the faster it’s forgotten, the better.

The Obama administration’s promise to not dig into the past was politically smart in the short term, because the sound and fury that would accompany a careful investigation of the many follies of the last few years would be a diversion, and plenty of Democrats were complicit with the stupidity of the Iraq War and the financial meltdown. But it’s not good for the country, because it encourages revisionist history and the minimization of the authentic tragedies of people like Shirley Sherrod.

Also, too, this is a damn good question:

Here’s a little thought experiment: just imagine how this would have gone down if the white farmer and his wife hadn’t emerged to give testimony.

(via)

43 replies
  1. 1
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    The Obama administration’s promise to not dig into the past was politically smart in the short term

    Well, the decision was made for them. “Looking forward not back” and “not playing the partisan blame game” are central tenets of Broderism, for silly stuff like wars, unwarranted spying, abolition of habeas corpus, etc. You have to stay on top of stuff like blowjobs and questionable pardons.
    But DougJ mentioned earlier that for Joe Klein et al, the radicals of the sixties, real and imagined, sometimes seem to loom as large as al Qaeda and loose nukes, while lynchings, bombings and domestic terrorism against blacks in living memory– Condi Rice was, IIANM, a playmate of a little girl killed in the Birmingham bombings–are part of the dim and distant past, no more relevant than the Whiskey Rebellion or Teapot Dome.

  2. 2
    Keith G says:

    It’s critical that 1965 become ancient history for a party that owes its current existence to a strategy of embracing those who were on the wrong side of the civil rights struggle.

    A large slice of the Democratic Party cannot be chucking stones on this topic, though. A generation ago there was more than enough racism to go around and there are scores of yella dogs with rather quaint opinions on race.

    The whole affair has been quite depressing.

  3. 3
    Alwhite says:

    Here’s a little thought experiment: just imagine how this would have gone down if the white farmer and his wife hadn’t emerged to give testimony.

    It would not have really made much difference. They got the “Those niggers are the real racists” story out there & into the minds of the moran battalion. The lie had already been exposed and the new attack line became the the WH is a bunch of pussies. Odds are they knew the truth would get out there & were already prepared. They tossed out the lie that the white farmers were fake but again that was just to appease the morans. This was never meant to be a long running con. Acorn was the big win this was just a rear guard action to harass.

  4. 4
    Stillwater says:

    When your past is shameful, the faster it’s forgotten, the better.

    Except for one thing: to them, it isn’t shameful. They lay low when convenient, attack at what they believe are opportune times, unrepentantly advocate for ‘white rights’ and all that that means.

    Same with the forgotten Bush years. Policy makers who advocated for those tragic policies aren’t ashamed of having passed them: their quietly proud of that fact. Policy decisions don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re not limited to the body politic:CongressCritter relation. The real influence on decision-making occurs despite – or irregardless of (see what I did there?) – the will of the public.

    The forgetting is a cover, not an admission.

  5. 5
    John PM says:

    Good point about forgetting 1965, mistermix. Modern history to Republicans is WW 2, Ronald Reagan becoming president, Bill Clinton getting a BJ and Saddam Hussien destroying the Twin Towers. Everything else is irrelevant.

  6. 6
    BrYan says:

    What amazes me was that an entire forest had to be leveled to make tissues for these assholes crying about the “racism” of Shirley Sherrod “not doing everything she could” for a white farmer from the edit tape. Compare that to what every black person experienced every day in every city of the South and even quite a bit in the North for over 100 years. Half the country would be underwater from tears if every white person had to experience what a black person experienced in one day.

  7. 7
    J says:

    I can claim no originality for this sentiment, but one of the lowest, if not the lowest, tendencies in political life is to stoke ignorant racist or nationalist resentment with a view to riding to power on its back. The history of this and other countries is full of sickening examples. Yet this is the deliberate strategy of the “Grand Old Party”, which once proudly used to call itself the party of Lincoln. “Scum” is too kind a word for the likes of Breitbart. If I’ve understood it rightly, I don’t buy what Keith G says above. The Democratic party, disappointing and feeble as it has been of late, has much to look back on with pride a generation ago, and the present day party, so far as Civil rights go, is more the child of LBJ than the Dixiecrats.

    I’m (barely) old enough to remember the idealism and courage of the civil rights movement, of people, black and white, like Shirely Sherrod. The attempt to write it and them out of history and out of the present is as loathsome as anything else the Republicans do. If I may be permitted a 60’s style joke, let me quote Chairman Mao:

    Combat Revisionism!

  8. 8
    Allison W. says:

    I don’t think we needed the white farmer to come out. Watching the entire video should have been enough to clear her name. What I know for sure is that whether she was forced to resign or not, breitbart and the rest of the right wing would have still continued to smear ms. sherrod.

    The Obama administration’s promise to not dig into the past was politically smart in the short term, because the sound and fury that would accompany a careful investigation of the many follies of the last few years would be a diversion, and plenty of Democrats were complicit with the stupidity of the Iraq War and the financial meltdown. But it’s not good for the country, because it encourages revisionist history and the minimization of the authentic tragedies of people like Shirley Sherrod.

    Wouldn’t make a bit a difference for sherrod’s if Obama had gone after bush or not. glossing over tragedy and blurring the facts are what people do. period.

  9. 9

    Here’s a little thought experiment: just imagine how this would have gone down if the white farmer and his wife hadn’t emerged to give testimony.

    It would have given the wingers just enough wiggle room to not have their black racist meme caper crushed into the stoopid zone like it was. But the full video was exculpatory for Sherrod for normal people any way.

    As far as this

    The Obama administration’s promise to not dig into the past was politically smart in the short term, because the sound and fury that would accompany a careful investigation of the many follies of the last few years would be a diversion,

    I agree with this and that it is not good for the country long term. And also near pol suicide for the first black president in a county that doesn’t have a big problem with torture, long as it’s done on furriners that are brown and talk funny.

    I do hope for, and I am fairly certain that in the background investigators are combing through the money crimes of Bush/ Cheney, especially Cheney in all the war contracting, as well as in other government agencies, mostly regulatory. Those crimes don’t have the protective shield of claiming national security. They are just pure greed and avarice, most of it done under the presses radar while preoccupied with Iraq and other things. As far as Cheney and his top henchman David Addington, there is likely enough theft and influence peddling to keep the FBI and DOJ busy for years. But none of it will happen in an Obama first term. If it happens, it would be in a second. And that is likely true for even a white dem president.

  10. 10

    Not forgotten, just revised so that present day Republicans are somehow champions of the CRM.

  11. 11
    KRK says:

    People who think it wouldn’t have mattered if the Spooners hadn’t come forward to strongly support Shirley are kidding themselves. Maybe the NAACP would have still backtracked, but the “news” media wouldn’t have changed their slant, and I doubt USDA would have backtracked rather than just sticking with Vilsack’s original “it looks bad therefore she has to go” nonsense. And I give the Spooners a lot of credit for speaking out, because despite their relationship with and affection for Shirley, it wasn’t a move every white couple in their 80s in south rural Georgia would have made.

    Shirley’s husband Charles has a book in him that he keeps not getting around to writing about his time in SNCC and the Albany Movement and beyond. If one were to convey to him that there’s a whole new group of people out there who would be interested in reading that story, would that seem to be a fair assessment?

  12. 12
    El Cid says:

    Again, Sherrod didn’t just confront Southern segregationist racism when her father was murdered.

    She and her husband were fucking out there in rural god-damned Georgia organizing black people to vote for the 1st time.

    She god-damned fought the force of violent Southern white supremists. Good god, you’re talking about the kind of organizing which got Schwerner, Cheney, Goodman assassinated.

    She wasn’t just some victim. She was a mother-fucking true-to-life civil rights leader, a hero.

    It’s not just about her father. She didn’t just experience her father being killed and go about her busines.

    She changed the fucking country.

    And not just during the civil / voting rights era — but fighting the racism of the USDA until the few black farmers left got a court settlement addressing it as such.

    I’m pretty sure it was just as much a lesson in racism to confront Southern segregationists who were willing to kill organizers to keep African Americans from voting, and to take on and beat a Cabinet level department for its legacy of racism in lending and aid, as it was to have your father killed by white farmers with no criminal prosecution.

  13. 13

    She was a mother-fucking true-to-life civil rights leader, a hero.

    The last word in this sentence is Reason #1,986 why the fReichtards have a hate on for her. Why couldn’t she curl up and whimper just like they would have done?

  14. 14
    slag says:

    The picture at the end of Digby’s post is well worth the price of admission. It complements the text perfectly.

  15. 15
    joeyess says:

    @Keith G: One word, hyphenated: Southern-Fucking-Strategy.

  16. 16

    I think it is perfect poetic justice that Breitbart picked this heroine for his smear job. It is so elegant a statement on the convulsing conservative movement as it struggles one labored breath at a time before it’s big sleep. Whilst the buzzards of just deserts circle above. ever closer to get their turn.

  17. 17
    BC says:

    I have been commenting everywhere I can that Shirley Sherrod never discriminated against anyone. She admits she did not do her fullest for them at the beginning, but she did not just send them out the door and tell them there was nothing she could do – she referred them to what she thought was a competent white lawyer, figuring that that lawyer would do the job she was doing for the black farmers. The rightwing still asserts it was racist for her to make the assumption that “one of his own kind would take care of him,” but I don’t. I would think that a lawyer who had expressed enough interest in the new Chapter 12 bankruptcy law to take the training would be able to take care of a poor white farmer who came for help. When Ms. Sherrod learned that the lawyer wasn’t helping, then she put her full force behind providing them with the assistance they needed to save their farm. And she used that experience with the Spooners for the next poor white farmer who came and asked for help. There are many white farmers who were helped by her during this time.

  18. 18
    mai naem says:

    As long as politicians have to gain from this, these attitudes will continue because they will be stoked by the politicians. I do think John Edwards has something in the class/poverty not just race as far as AA but I have been around long enough to know that blacks face more discrimination than any other group. While I understand Obama’s dilemma, there’s some stuff that he should be sticking up for because it is so obviously the right thing to do.

  19. 19
    J says:

    It says something about the age we live in that a manifestly false and slanderous charge of racism, from a known fraud, was enough to get a genuine heroine like Sherrod sacked without a hearing, while a professional racist and liar like Breitbart has been and remains a figure to whom many doors are open.

  20. 20
    eemom says:

    @El Cid:

    And so one can see how she might not be easily intimidated by a gang of overpaid overfed law firm thugs brandishing motions to compel discovery.

    Sue, Shirley, sue!

  21. 21
    Brachiator says:

    Far too many people are acting as if this woman wasn’t a living witness to the horrors of Jim Crow and the fallout of 200 years of racist history and instead believe that she’s nursing ancient grievances. Her life is treated as the forgotten detritus on the trash heap of history, as if it’s all over, a museum exhibit.

    Tell it, Digby.

    @General Stuck:
    RE: Here’s a little thought experiment: just imagine how this would have gone down if the white farmer and his wife hadn’t emerged to give testimony.

    It would have given the wingers just enough wiggle room to not have their black racist meme caper crushed into the stoopid zone like it was. But the full video was exculpatory for Sherrod for normal people any way.

    Sadly, I don’t think this is true. For some conservative pundits, any black person who is not a Republican is by definition a racist race baiter race hustler and liar. Apparently, switching to the GOP is like a political religious conversion.

    We have already seen conservative pundits who have seen the complete video push the lie that the NAACP audience was applauding the supposedly racist bits of Sherrod’s speech, approving its “get whitey” portions and missing her larger point. By pushing this lie, they simultaneously proffer a weak apology to Sherrod herself while keeping alive the lie that the NAACP is a racist organization full of black racists, some of whom are also infiltrating the government.

    This is also why some wingnuts are convinced that somewhere there is a vault containing Obama’s real birth certificate and the Michelle Obama “whitey” tape.

    I’m waiting for the inevitable question to be put to any nonwhite nominee for a government job requiring Senate confirmation, “Are you now or have you ever been a racist black or Latino?”

  22. 22
    joeyess says:

    @J: yes it does…..

    TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

  23. 23
    gocart mozart says:

    Here’s a little thought experiment: just imagine how this would have gone down if the white farmer and his wife hadn’t emerged to give testimony.

    Several days of he said/she said media hysteria/slander followed by a brief half assed correction a few weeks later. See also ACORN, Cilimate Gate, Swift Boat Liars and Algore invented the internet. The O’Bama administration didn’t go to DefCon 4 for no reason.

  24. 24
    Hiram Taine says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist:

    You have to stay on top of stuff like blowjobs and questionable pardons.

    Only Democratic questionable pardons, you might recall that Bush 41 pardoned Cap Weinberger in advance of the trial where Weinberger’s testimony would have exposed Bush’s complicity in Iran Contra.

  25. 25
    gocart mozart says:

    Van Jones also.

  26. 26
    gocart mozart says:

    @Hiram Taine:
    Ah yes, Chritmas Eve ’92. I remember it well Hirem. I believe it was Ollie North and several others also. Funny how it was not a big media deal like the Mark Rich and other two bit felon pardons after Clinton left office. That was a huge deal because you know “The Clenis” and so on.

  27. 27
    joeyess says:

    With the exception of Ford, the last 3 GOoPer Presidents should have been impeached. Without mercy. With prejudice and maliciously. Of course, the last 2 (Bush’s, both) would have escaped the Senate’s wrath. But the House could have sent a message. Sure would beat the fuck out of sternly written letters.

  28. 28
    Josh says:

    Wait, Ford was not among the last three Republican presidents. Maybe you mean five?

  29. 29
    Adam C says:

    But it’s not good for the country, because it encourages revisionist history and the minimization of the authentic tragedies

    Amen

  30. 30
    Cacti says:

    Just as a reminder how not long ago Jim Crow was. When the Civil Rights Act was signed into law…

    President Obama was just shy of 3 years old. Presidents Clinton and Bush 43 were High School seniors.

    The Millenials are the first generation entirely removed from the segregation era.

  31. 31
    Shalimar says:

    @Keith G: I disagree. It’s true that there are many conservative Dems in Congress who don’t vary much from Republicans on a number of issues. But tolerance for racism isn’t one of them. The outright racists in the South became Republicans decades ago. To win as a Democrat in states like Alabama you have to have African-American votes so any hint of racism is going to cost a candidate politically. That isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of racist Democrats around here, but they keep it to themselves. Many Republicans don’t have to.

  32. 32
    Cliff says:

    …. And if I can get my hands on the racist f’n emails a neighbor is sending around to my parental units…. and the whole neighborhood…

    well, there will be a very interesting “look @ what my f’n racist neighbor said” blog showing up.

    I Promise.

    Meanwhile look at the cute doggie!

  33. 33
    Yutsano says:

    @Cacti: And by and large the Millenials have much more enlightened attitudes towards race than their predecessors. That is to say, it virtually does not exist for them as a factor. MLK would recognize the hard work still left to do, but also be proud that a generation is getting closer to his ideals.

  34. 34
    Keith says:

    Here’s a little thought experiment: just imagine how this would have gone down if the white farmer and his wife hadn’t emerged to give testimony.

    Probably a shitload more of stuff worse than this:

    You’re going off of her word that the farmer’s wife is the farmer’s wife?

  35. 35
    Citizen Alan says:

    The Obama administration’s promise to not dig into the past was politically smart in the short term.

    No. It. Was. Not.

    Going into the future, the practical effect of Obama’s promise to not dig into the past will be to establish the criminality of the Bush era as the new baseline for acceptable Republican behavior. The next Republican president will make it clear from day one that all of his (or her) U.S. attorneys will be expected to pursue frivolous charges against Dem politicians while ignoring outright criminality from Republicans, with immediate termination as the penalty for noncompliance, and the nation will accept this. The next Republican president will assert the power to spy on anyone he (or she) wants for any reason without any oversight, and the nation will accept this. The next Republican president will expressly run on a platform of torturing terrorism suspects and will make his (or her) first priority starting a war against Iran on trumped up reasons, and the nation will accept this. The nation will accept all these things and worse because Obama did not have the guts to even try to make a case for why such actions were criminal and deserving of prosecution.

    We are either a nation of laws or we are not. Obama has voted “not.”

  36. 36
    wilfred says:

    The Obama administration’s promise to not dig into the past was because plenty of Democrats were complicit with the stupidity of the Iraq War and the financial meltdown

    I paraphrased the quote because this is the heart of the matter. Politics and ethics are dialectical, apparently.

    Political affiliation is not an ontological category.

  37. 37
    WereBear says:

    “Bygones” is a tough nut to crack. Because, looking back to those heady days, his message was “we’re in this together” and that was a fragile concept that could fall flat in the oven with terrible consequences.

    I do feel that, since the Republicans are going to squeal no matter what he does, he should just go ahead and tip over the garbage can. But then I encounter people who comprise what passes for the sensible middle of the country these days, and I realize just how lefty and radical I truly am these days.

    Because he is the first AA President, and he’s going after accomplishments. Like it or not, I think he pictures the captioned JPEGS of future history downloads saying, “President Obama’s war crimes trials” with a bunch of white guys in the dock; and that’s something that makes me pause.

    President Nixon resigned in disgrace; and that didn’t stop Reagan, or Bush I or Bush II. It wouldn’t. It never will.

    Criminals never think they will be caught. Or they wouldn’t do it, would they?

  38. 38
    Honus says:

    @Keith G: It’s always been my theory that the country didn’t as much move republican in the last 40 years as much as democrats, guy like Thurmond and Trent Lott, switched to the republican party. The segregationist democrats who stayed, (c.f. Robert Byrd) repented. The current political alignment is not so much a sea change as just a more accurate reflection of regional reality.

  39. 39
    Honus says:

    @Yutsano: Thanks, Yutsano, this is what I’ve been saying for years. I think the fact that Obama won handily in a number of states (Virginia and North Carolina) that were supposed to be close demonstrated that there is a younger largely unpolled generation that is deaf to the Southern Strategy.
    The much-maligned boomers were the first generation that participated in integration and had to unlearn racism. Our children are the first generation that by and large, wasn’t taught to institutionalize and accept racism. The present day republican party and its carnival barkers like Brietbart are doing their best to re-educate a new generation, but it’s not working. That the teabaggers are almost exclusively old people demonstrates this.
    Of course, you always have a few privileged tory types like James Okeefe. Buckley was that guy in the 1950s. Those guys remind me of geeks that belonged to the YAF and a few years later the Federalist Society.

  40. 40
    DarcyPennell says:

    @Honus: Minor correction, Obama won North Carolina not handily but by 14,000 votes. It was so close the state wasn’t called for days.

    I don’t disagree with the point you’re making but NC is a bad example of that point.

  41. 41
    Ed Drone says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist:

    lynchings, bombings and domestic terrorism against blacks in living memory—Condi Rice was, IIANM, a playmate of a little girl killed in the Birmingham bombings—are part of the dim and distant past, no more relevant than the Whiskey Rebellion or Teapot Dome.

    May I suggest:

    Whiskey Rebellion = Tea Party
    Teapot Dome = BP Oil disaster

    Not much really changes, does it?

    Ed

  42. 42
    Honus says:

    @DarcyPennell: I guess I was just giddy about Virginia since I didn’t expect him to carry it at all and he won by like 7 points and was the first democrat since the civil rights bill passed to do so. I thought the margin in NC was more, I guess because it wasn’t as big a surprise to me that he won there.

  43. 43
    daveNYC says:

    Here’s a little thought experiment: just imagine how this would have gone down if the white farmer and his wife hadn’t emerged to give testimony.

    Reminds me of the Law and Order where some guy was murdered and the only witness was working at a bookie operation nearby. Long story short, but the guy testified against the murderer, but had to incriminate himself in the process. End quote for the episode talked about how the justice system was dependent on just one guy doing the right thing.

    Just saying, our political discourse is far to fragile to have to rely on people nutting up and doing the right thing every time.

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