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On Shirley Sherrod and Sarah Palin's Missed Opportunity

The Shirley Sherrod saga has crowded other stories out of the media over the past few days. The details of the saga are well known and easily available on other Web sites. The 7-10, however, wishes to focus on an unreported political angle to the story.

Many politicians, particularly those who do not hail from safe congressional districts, have understandably been a bit gun shy about responding to this story. Expressing condemnation at Andrew Breitbart, the conservative activist whose edited video served as the catalyst for this story, would presumably lead to criticism among other conservatives who feel that politician is "siding with the NAACP" or is somehow "against Whites." Expressing support for Sherrod may lead a politician to be seen as "playing the race card" or "being in lockstep with the NAACP."

These types of political calculations are understandable, but unfortunate. However, that's the state of today's political and media climate. But this story also affords a few gutsy politicians, particularly those with presidential ambitions, a unique opportunity to distinguish themselves for the right reasons. Sarah Palin in particular could easily increase her political capital by coming to Sherrod's defense. After all, Palin commonly ridicules the "lamestream media" and enjoys her freedom to criticize and avoid them:

"With the shackles off, I relish my freedom to call it like I see it, while starving the media beast that was devouring the false reports about me, my staff and my loved ones."

"The lamestream media is no longer a cornerstone of democracy in America. They need help. They need to regain their credibility and some respect. There are some pretty sick puppies in the industry today. They really need help."
Based on this quote, Palin and Sherrod have a lot in common. While some of the critical stories about Palin may have merit, such as her awkward interview with Katie Couric, Palin is right to be offended at the media frenzy that surrounded her daughter's pregnancy.

Being a public figure, Palin naturally commanded (and still commands) public attention. Sherrod, however, did not seek the media spotlight and has had her character and identity destroyed by an influential conservative activist whose personal vendetta against the NAACP renders her as nothing more than collateral damage. If Palin was a victim of the "lamestream media," then Sherrod certainly was too even though some conservatives, such as Rush Limbaugh, believe the media are at fault for going too easy on Sherrod, whom he believes is "playing the race card."

Should Palin courageously come to Sherrod's defense and criticize Breitbart and the media outlets that piled onto her, she would show her independence, a sense of leadership, and her willingness to "defend what is right," not just what is convenient. It would also earn her a lot of respect from Black voters, moderates, and uncommitted Republicans who may be skeptical about Palin's ideology and political loyalties. Given that Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and other potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates have not exactly been making significant inroads with Black voters, this presents a fantastic opportunity for Palin to separate herself from her rivals and earn plaudits from voters who may not have been inclined to vote for her in the first place.

This story is on the verge of leaving the front pages and will likely be finished by the start of next week. There's still an opportunity though for politicians to take a political risk by defending Sherrod and criticizing those who sought her ouster. Palin likely stands to benefit the most from doing so on the GOP side, but as long as she remains silent on this matter, she will be unable to expand her base of support beyond people who are already fervently in her camp.

3 comment(s):

S.W. Anderson said...

If only instinctively, Palin knows very well the largest component of her fans is made up of people heavily motivated by resentment and suspicion.

Palin fans resent changes that have taken place in society over the past half century. They resent integration as something hated liberals got courts to jam down their throats. They resent that women can choose to have an abortion, that school busing was used to force "mixing" of the races, that public schools can't be used to inculcate their religious beliefs in all children. They resent laws that in any way interfere with what they see as the Constitution's guarantee of unlimited and unfettered gun rights. Affirmative action is to them just reverse discrimination.

Environmentalism to them is just an unnecessary liberal power play, to create higher taxes and grow meddlesome government. In their view it results only in complications and expense for business, and higher energy costs for consumers.

These resenters believe – mistakenly – that the MSM are liberal in outlook and purpose. That makes the media they don't control their enemies. They believe that largely because they have a command-and-control mindset that says if you're not actively, completely with us, you're against us.

So, I believe that in some corner of her undisciplined, opportunistic mind, Palin realizes that if she were to stick up for Sherrod, crossing Rush Limbaugh and some others of his ilk in the process, her stock would go down with him, with the conservative Republican base and with most of the people who pay to hear her speak and stand in line to get into the half of a book-signing event she's willing to endure.

Anthony Palmer said...


Do you think that having one's "facts" refuted by undisputable evidence only makes some hold on more tightly to their "facts?" In the case of Palin, for example, the "death panels" meme was clearly debunked, but she and her supporters continued to insist that death panels were in the HCR bill.

In the case of the Sherrod imbroglio (which I've had enough of, by the way), I would make two arguments: 1) if the logic of my original paragraph is true, then would people who loved Sarah Palin continue to love her even if she was going to bat for "the other side?," and 2) if the logic of my original paragraph is not true, then would this suggest that people (e.g., Sherrod's detractors) are driven more by their hard right ideology than by any opinion leader, even if that opinion leader is Palin herself?

S.W. Anderson said...

Does having one's "facts" refuted by indisputable evidence only make some hold on more tightly to their "facts?"

When the word "facts" has to be put between quotation marks in the way you did above, what you're really talking about is opinions. Over years of observing radical-right types, I've learned it's common for them to equate their opinions with other people's facts. This makes rejecting and/or refuting facts convenient for them, because it's understood everyone has a right to their own opinion. They seem to interpolate this to mean their opinions are just as valid and worthy as anyone else's facts, because when others' facts don't jibe with what they believe, they reject those facts as just so much of someone else's opinion.

Now, if that sounds like nonsense out of Alice Beyond the Looking Glass, you're right. But that's how it works.

To your question No. 1, IMO the answer is no. I think it would undermine her standing with many of her erstwhile boosters.

The answer to question No. 2 is yes.

Look at what happens to Republicans who try to show their independence. Remember former Sen. Chuck Hagel, who wanted to run for president? There was a time when he was considered a rising star in the GOP and future presidential material. That was before Gingrich, Armey, DeLay, Norquist and the gang took the Reagan revolution to the next step. Hagel put feelers out for money and other support and quickly learned he couldn't get arrested if he threw a brick through a store window. He was entirely too moderate, too willing to work across the aisle.

Now there's ex-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida. Again, he was too moderate, too willing to work with Democrats in an effort to get some things done that Floridians need to have done.

Republicans, certainly at the national level, have shown they care very little about governing. They want power and control, and the chance to funnel money and advantage to those who fund and otherwise support them.

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