The tempest in a tea pot surrounding the firing of Shirley Sherrod, a United States Department of Agriculture official in Georgia, looks set for a new twist today. If you caught so much as a glimpse of the news yesterday, you heard about Sherrod's story: how she was forced to quit by USDA officials, including secretary Tom Vilsack and under-secretary Cheryl Cook, after a video surfaced purportedly showing Sherrod, who is black, talking about how 24 years ago she "withheld help from a white farmer seeking the [USDA's] help in saving his farm." The video showing Sherrod's "racism" went viral, even though, as it turned out, the video had been selectively edited, had taken Sherrod's comments completely out of context, and had flipped Sherrod's remarks on their head. When interviewed by CNN, the white farmers whom Sherrod had supposedly wronged and discriminated against said the opposite: that Sherrod, their "close friend," had helped save their farm.
Now that the truth has trickled out in this mini-controversy, the USDA is reviewing the rash decision to fire Sherrod. And they should, given the dubious source of the edited video—namely, Andrew Breitbart's conservative Big Journalism website. Our own David Corn probably hits it on the nail:
In other words, the truth doesn't matter. If right-wing demagogues make a stink, we'll crucify the victim. This was a shameful statement.
Let's go back to Cook's remark to Sherrod about Glenn Beck, and flip the script. If a left-wing website had set up a Bush administration official during the Bush-Cheney years, can you see an overheated department functionary saying, "We have to get this person out before it's on Maddow"? (Rachel, excuse the comparison.) Of course not. The Bush-Cheney folks would have battled back. You don't allow ideological enemies -- who want you to fail -- to define the terms. That Beck figured into Vilsack's and Cook's calculations for a nanosecond is a tremendous defeat for the administration -- and an undeserved victory for Beck and his Tea Party followers. It ought to make supporters of the Obama administration sick. The White House, as could be expected, ran from this mess. On Tuesday, a White House official told CNN that it was not involved in forcing Sherrod out.
The NAACP, which at first supported the decision to bounce Sherrod, reversed course on Tuesday, saying, "We have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party activist Andrew Breitbart," who runs BigGovernment.com. Snookering can be undone -- and it should not be tolerated. The only decent course for Vilsack was to review the case and, if there are no new incriminating facts, offer Sherrod an apology and her job back. If the administration -- in the face of a relentless attack from the right -- doesn't fight for its own, how can voters count on it to fight for them? This is not about Beck-bashing. It's about taking charge and doing the right thing. All that is necessary for the triumph of blogging demagogues is that good people do nothing. Didn't a conservative once say that?
There's a new TV attack ad on the airwaves in Nevada ripping Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for, well, just about everything he's done in the past two years. The 30-second spot essentially blames Reid for Nevada's nation-leading jobless rate, for bringing to Nevada the second-fewest stimulus dollars of all 50 states, and, of course, for all the usual GOP-tagged crimes and misdemeanors—"bailouts," "deficits," and "Obamacare." The ad was paid for by a group named American Crossroads, a deep-pocketed conservative 527 group backed by Karl Rove.
There's just one problem with the Rove group's Reid attack ad: It's basically one huge distortion. On "Face to Face with Jon Ralston," a TV show focusing on Nevada politics, host Ralston eviscerated the ad: "The factual stretches and gross distortions here are egregious," he said. All in all, Ralston considering the ad so untrue that, when it came time to grade it, he gave it a "D."
Factcheck.org, a non-partisan media watchdog publication, similarly dissected American Crossroads' ad and highlighted on inaccuracy after another. For instance, the claim that Nevada ranks second-to-last in stimulus money received, Factcheck found, is based on a February 23 Las Vegas Review-Journal story published mere days after President Obama signed the stimulus bill. The Review-Journal's calculations about stimulus funds going to different states isn't based on actual payments at all, but rather early projections about where the money might go. ProPublica says Nevada ranks 43rd out of 50 for money received, but judging Reid's job at bringing home stimulus money is more complex than that:
[B]laming Reid for Nevada’s share of the stimulus funding is difficult to do. A lot of the money is driven by formulas, such as additional funds for food stamps and Medicaid. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal article cited in the ad, Nevada "extends medical assistance to the smallest proportion of needy people of any state in the country." Other stimulus spending was decided by competitive bidding, such as the Race to the Top education funds.
The ad also says Nevada's unemployment rate is "well over 20 percent." Well, that's just not true at all. The statistics used in the ad come from unnamed experts in a May 21 Review-Journal who had given a rough estimate as to the state's jobless rate including those who're underemployed and no longer looking for work, known as "discouraged workers," Factcheck found. It takes five seconds and two clicks of your mouse to see that the Silver State's jobless rate is 14.2 percent. Now, that's still the highest rate in the US, and it qualifies for a full-blown economic crisis. So why lie in a campaign ad and make it look worse than it is?
All in all, the ad is embarrassing for how severely it distorts reality. But then again, the ad was put out by a group headed by a political operative, Karl Rove, who skewed the truth to sell an entire country an entire country on going to war in Iraq. Should we be at all surprised?
Out in Nevada, the Harry Reid-Sharron Angle slugfest will almost surely be decided by the state's growing bloc of centrist, undecided voters. They're the ones possibly pissed at Reid for helping to pass a massive health insurance reform bill, but also put off by Angle's right-wing extremism and propensity for rhetorical gaffes (rape and incest victims should just make "a lemon situation into lemonade," the unemployed are "spoiled", etc.) In Reid's case, those independents are crucial to his success. "That’s who’s driving his negatives, the people who voted for him six years ago and now say he's too much a part of the Washington establishment," says University of Nevada-Reno political scientist Eric Herzik. "If he can woo them back, he wins."
According to a new poll, Reid's beginning to do just that. His support among independents has climbed from 24 percent to 38 percent, Public Policy Polling reported today. And when stacked next to his tea party-endorsed candidate, Reid's standing among independents looks even rosier, the PPP poll found:
Where Lowden had led Reid 62-27 with independents, Angle has only a 51-41 advantage. Where [Sue] Lowden had held Reid to a 75-17 lead with Democratic voters, Angle's nomination has allowed him to expand that to 85-10.
If Reid can keep clawing back more support from independents—especially those who've voted for him before—by highlighting Angle's extreme positions and touting the bacon he's brought back to Nevada, then you'll see that independent support continue climbing. And come November, that independent backing could be the difference between a narrow victory or an embarrassing loss for Harry Reid.
Marco Rubio, the Florida GOP's candidate for US Senate, loves to burnish his conservative chops. At least eight of his recently released "Marco’s 12 Simple Ways To Grow Our Economy" call for—big surprise—slashing taxes, like extending the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, cutting corporate taxes, ending the death tax, and so on. But what about helping out the unemployed? That's not in Rubio's 12 economic ideas, and on Monday, the candidate waved off the idea of extending emergency jobless benefits—a position he's standing by even with a sky-high 11.4 percent jobless rate in Florida and when a vast majority of Americans support more jobless support.
In Tampa on Monday, Rubio said the only way Congress should approve more help to millions of unemployed Americans is if lawmakers make cuts to offsets the cost of more benefits, the Miami Heraldreported. "At some point," Rubio said, "someone has to draw a line in the sand and say we are serious about not growing debt."
The former Florida House speaker's commitment to chipping away at the federal deficit is, to some extent, admirable. In the long term, the federal debt, if untamed, is a worrisome issue. But Floridians will elect a new US senator in November. So how smart of a political move is it for Rubio to dismiss our jobs crisis when more than 200,000 Floridians have already lost their benefits, and when 62 percent of Americans in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll said Congress should extend benefits to the unemployed?
Since tea party leader Mark Williams' racist rejoinder to the NAACP ignited into a national scandal, other members of the movement have been clamoring to disown Williams and disavow his inflammatory remarks. But as tea partiers have distanced themselves from the conservative talk show host and political operative, will tea party darling Sharron Angle, whose campaign has very close ties to Williams, follow suit?
Williams and the group he's affiliated with, the Tea Party Express, have almost single-handedly made Angle into a contender. Earlier this month, Angle described Williams, who stepped down this weekend as chairman of the outfit, as "instrumental" to her success. So does she still consider him a key to victory? So far, she's not saying.
Instead, Angle's campaign issued a statement to CNN that managed to avoid mentioning Williams' name directly and spin the controversy into a chance to bash her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "Mrs. Angle readily condemns the use of the type of inflammatory language used on somebody's private blog just like she condemned the language used by Majority Leader Harry Reid when he referenced our President as being a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one'," Angle's spokesman Jerry Stacy said, referring to Reid's racially tone-deaf comments that appeared in Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's book Game Change. "This type of language is not supported by the many hard-working patriots behind the growing tea party movement which labors to sustain a grassroots movement to elect candidates who will protect the Constitution, and the smokescreens coming from Harry Reid's surrogates will not lessen the passion of the tea party movement."
Following a resolution by the NAACP calling on tea partiers to purge racist elements from their movement, Williams, responded by penning a satirical letter that described slavery as "a great gig," claimed the NAACP makes "more money off of race than any slave trader, ever," and referred to NAACP president Ben Jealous as "Tom's Nephew." The comments forced Williams to step down from the chairmanship of the Express. In response, tea party groups have been fending off accusations of racism and cutting their ties to the Express, a national tea party group that backs conservative candidates around the country. This past weekend, the Tea Party Federation, a coalition of conservative groups, booted Williams and the Express from their network.