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Using Race to Smear Obama

Posted on Jul 21, 2010
White House / Pete Souza

By Eugene Robinson

After the Shirley Sherrod episode, there’s no longer any need to mince words: A cynical right-wing propaganda machine is peddling the poisonous fiction that when African-Americans or other minorities reach positions of power, they seek some kind of revenge against whites.

A few of the purveyors of this bigoted nonsense might actually believe it. Most of them, however, are merely seeking political gain by inviting white voters to question the motives and good faith of the nation’s first African-American president. This is really about tearing Barack Obama down.

Sherrod, until Monday an official with the Department of Agriculture, was supposed to be mere collateral damage. Andrew Breitbart, a smarmy provocateur who often speaks at tea party rallies, posted on his website a video snippet of a speech that Sherrod, who is African-American, gave to a NAACP meeting earlier this year. In it, Sherrod seemed to boast of having withheld from a white farmer some measure of aid that she would have given to a black farmer.

It looked like a clear case of black racism in action. Within hours, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had forced her to resign. The NAACP, under attack from the right for having denounced racism in the tea party movement, issued a statement blasting Sherrod and condemning her attitude as unacceptable.

But Breitbart had overstepped. The full video of Sherrod’s speech showed she wasn’t bragging about being a racist, she was telling what amounted to a parable about prejudice and reconciliation. For one thing, the incident happened in 1986 when she was working for a nonprofit, long before she joined the Obama administration. For another, she helped that white man and his family save their farm, and they became friends. Through him, she said, she learned to look past race toward our common humanity.


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In effect, she was telling the story of America’s struggle with race, but with the roles reversed. For hundreds of years, black people were enslaved, oppressed and discriminated against by whites—until the civil rights movement gave us all a path toward redemption.

With the Obama presidency, though, has come a flurry of charges—from the likes of Breitbart but also from more substantial conservative figures—about alleged incidences of racial discrimination against whites by blacks and other minorities. Recall, for example, the way Obama’s critics had a fit when he offered an opinion about the confrontation between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and a white police officer. Remember the over-the-top reaction when it was learned that Justice Sonia Sotomayor had once talked about how being a “wise Latina” might affect her thinking.

Newt Gingrich called Sotomayor a racist. He was lightning-quick to call Sherrod a racist, too. I’d suggest that the former House speaker consider switching to decaf, but I think he knows exactly what he’s doing.

These allegations of anti-white racism are being deliberately hyped and exaggerated because they are designed to make whites fearful. It won’t work with most people, of course, but it works with some—enough, perhaps, to help erode Obama’s political standing and damage his party’s prospects at the polls.

Before Sherrod, the cause celebre of the “You Must Fear Obama” campaign involved something called the New Black Panther Party. Never heard of it? That’s because it’s a tiny group that exists mainly in the fevered imaginations of its few members. Also in the alternate reality of Fox News: One of the network’s hosts has devoted more than three hours of air time in recent weeks to the grave threat posed by the NBPP. Actually, I suspect that this excess is at least partly an attempt by a relatively obscure anchor to boost her own notoriety.

The Sherrod case has fully exposed the right-wing campaign to use racial fear to destroy Obama’s presidency, and I hope the effect is to finally stiffen some spines in the administration. The way to deal with bullies is to confront them, not run away. Yet Sherrod was fired before even being allowed to tell her side of the story. She said the official who carried out the execution explained that she had to resign immediately because the story was going to be on Glenn Beck’s show that evening. Ironically, Beck was the only Fox host who, upon hearing the rest of Sherrod’s speech, promptly called for her to be reinstated. On Wednesday, Vilsack offered to rehire her.

Shirley Sherrod stuck to her principles and stood her ground. I hope the White House learns a lesson.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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Go Right Young Man's avatar

By Go Right Young Man, July 22, 2010 at 7:04 am Link to this comment

Kerryrose, - “They are now resegregating the schools.


May we have some more information on the location, along with local paper, you refer to?  I don’t need a URL.  Just more information as a jumping point.

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By Go Right Young Man, July 22, 2010 at 6:43 am Link to this comment

kerryrose, - “I have never heard such hate and venom.”


Keep reading from this Web site.  You’ll see every notion of hate and venom your mind can imagine.  Or is hate and venom excusable if it’s rooted in the correct side of politics?

I speak out against all forms of blinding hatred.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, July 22, 2010 at 6:29 am Link to this comment

I think the interesting thing in this flap is the way in which the Obama administration panicked.  That requires some explanation.

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By yo, July 22, 2010 at 6:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

the speech is actually from 1986 to a non profit group about her experiences with
farmers, she only released it to the NAACP this past year. which is even more
screwed up actually.

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By yours truly, July 22, 2010 at 6:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The right-wing is up to its usual diversionary divide and conquer tactics.  Their claim that blacks are out for revenge harks back to slave times (not today’s wage-slavery but when slaves actually were in chains) and the slaveowner’s fear of slave rebellions.  Hey, corporate CEOs are today’s slaveowners, along with the politicans who enable them.  What they fear is that the public will turn against them, so they’re falling back on the heretofore reliable divide & conquer, figuring that once again it’ll come through for them.  Not this time, right-wingers, not this time!

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By Louis Proyect, July 22, 2010 at 6:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Sherrod case has fully exposed the right-wing campaign to use racial fear to destroy Obama’s presidency, and I hope the effect is to finally stiffen some spines in the administration.


This kind of foolish faith in the capacity of Barack Obama to become something different than he is—a loyal servant of big business—reminds me of belief in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. The only sensible stance to be taken toward the Obama administration is that taken by the soft left toward George W. Bush. We are, after all, living effectively under Bush’s 3rd term.

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By balkas, July 22, 2010 at 5:55 am Link to this comment

Is performing sex for food or money the oldest profession? Or is it the discrimination? And looking dwn on people being mother of all racisms and not the american only?

I tend to think that it had been the abrogation of basic human rights that preceded prostitution.

But eugene never, as far as i know, connects these dots with discrimination and its son-daughter, the racism.

It had been the egyptians who were the first to discriminate against lighter-skinned shemitic peoples.

So, being black of all shades, cannot be sole cause for discrimination. The FIRST CAUSE being poverty of some people.
However, both the poverty and wealth are waged! And by whom? By the biggest discriminators; among them and as much as clinton, jefferson, et al, also obama.

Obama is also killing children—and of lighter skin than his. tnx

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By kerryrose, July 22, 2010 at 5:48 am Link to this comment

There is ugliness happening everywhere.  ACORN, Sherrod, Arizona.

Closer to home:  A nearby town desegregated with a minority districted six years ago.  The school board has been forced to stop plans on building a new school for the districts just this week because of protests.  ‘Clean it up’  ‘We want our town back.’  Sound familiar?

They are now resegregating the schools.  The local online paper publishes comments and I have never heard such hate and venom.  ‘Send the offspring of the animals somewhere else.’  Not kidding.  Verbatim.

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By BarbieQue, July 22, 2010 at 4:57 am Link to this comment

If the People can be distracted by charges of “racism”, it will be much easier for the politicians to avoid the question of why our jobs have been outsourced to countries with lower standards of living, and why the Vice President can say they aren’t coming back. And why billions and billions were given in “bailouts”. And why even Clouseau wouldn’t be able to find a “Made in USA” item in his local Wal Mart. And why there is apparently no strategery (...) to even address the problem.

We’ll hear much much more of this, despite the fact that Barack Obama was elected in the first place.

Some will remember that one of the first outbursts from the Newly Elected Presidents Attorney General was to call the Citizens who had just elected the first African American President “Cowards”

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been and we—I believe continue to be in too many ways essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder told Department of Justice employees at an event Wednesday celebrating Black History Month…” (Nice one Eric, you should be an Ambassador)

The Democrats might find that the Race card isn’t such a wise move, considering the entire picture.

Then again, it might just “work”.

November 2010: Drain the Swamp

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Go Right Young Man's avatar

By Go Right Young Man, July 22, 2010 at 4:42 am Link to this comment

Documents show media desire to label Obama critics as racist

“And I think this threads the needle. If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists. Ask: why do they have such a deep-seated problem with a black politician who unites the country? What lurks behind those problems? This makes *them* sputter with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction.’  ‘I’m not saying OBAMA should do this. I’m saying WE should do this.” - Spencer Ackerman,

We know left leaning media and bloggers won’t question the facts.  They’ll simply follow along with the shiny bouncing ball. - Eugene Robinson

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By FiftyGigs, July 22, 2010 at 4:35 am Link to this comment

It isn’t only racism.

President Obama nailed the conservative movement in stating “they have no faith in the American people”.

The fact is they have no faith in anything except the acquisition of money and power by any means, including illegal or immoral means. This racist angle they’re employing now is just one tactic from their bag of devilishness.

The proof of all this should be evident to Republicans, especially evangelicals. After years of ruling the federal and state governments, how much of the religious right agenda did they implement? Zero. Instead they handed the religious right immoral sexual promiscuity, vice of all kinds, dishonesty, probably every manner of sin.

And it continues today. The conservative ringleader of talk radio is into his fourth marriage? How’s that for a vow to God?

Conservatives ... have ... no ... faith.

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By grandmaw lauren, July 22, 2010 at 4:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What was done to Ms. Sherrod was the most underhanded, hurtful and despicable smear I have EVER seen.  But, lets get real here Eugene, you have still not called out the LaRouche Pac for the nazi sign waving, the witch doctor sign, the calling for the impeachment of President Obama. Where oh where Eugene is your voice on this? Instead of calling them out you just play the same ole game of left verses right. Can’t have the people coming together now can we? Ms. Sherrod was soooooooo right when she said that the elite created the racism to keep the people from becoming to powerful and is still working just fine today.

Ms. Sherrod is my hero.

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By omisaide7, July 22, 2010 at 3:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is true diamond, hammeggs, ftw but sherrod should have been more mindful of what she said under the circumstances. Desperation drives these people. desperate times calls for desparate measures I guess. But what they fail to realize is Obama’s election initially “stem the tides” of the repercussions in the middle east and the wall street sharks. Neocons or Neolibs all the same things these days. The radical right of the dominant culture is hell bent to alter the gains of this great nation in the worst way. With all these other nations suited up with nuclear armorment-why bring a knife to a gun fight. The fascist is taking the US in the wrong direction.

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By diamond, July 22, 2010 at 12:04 am Link to this comment

The tea party are nothing but front men and women for the Republican Party and they use religion, racism, class prejudice and sexism and a carefully sanitized, distorted, right wing view of American history to attack their enemies. Now, you might think their enemies are the Democrats and Barack Obama but their real enemies are the ordinary workers of America who out number them a million to one and who they know they must keep down, ignorant and despairing if they are to continue with their unjust Fascist program to entrench the far right in power forever and to spread the free market via militarism and colonialism (invasion and occupation) to all corners of the globe. Rupert Murdoch and his Pravda -Fox News- the Republicans and the Tea Party are just different masks for the same overlords.

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By Jason, July 21, 2010 at 11:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I find it unfortunate that the right uses better propaganda methods than the left in the USA.  Be that as it may, the right got caught.  They went too far, too fast. 

    It seems too that conservatives in general ummmm… tend to not accept consequences or the inevitable negative effects of their policies in USA society.  People will buy into the drivel that Andrew Breitbart spewed.  Pity… but this is what the USA society gets for allowing the wrong people access to the airwaves.

To Breitbart: 

    Relax and uhhhh…stop acting unethically!  If KKK, Neo-Nazis and other organizations with a history of racism and white supremacy aspirations attend your tea parties in their outfits (I have seen this first hand at the Washington DC Tea Party rally in the Summer of 2009), people are going to believe that the tea party movement is a racist one - whether officially invited or not.  Sorry for this reality check, but you need it as you seem to forget that this is kind of how it works here!  Geez…

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By Hammond Eggs, July 21, 2010 at 11:30 pm Link to this comment

Most of them, however, are merely seeking political gain by inviting white voters to question the motives and good faith of the nation’s first African-American president. This is really about tearing Barack Obama down.

Obama’s race has nothing to do with his utter failure as president, the tsunami of lies that constituted his presidential campaign, his continued Executive branch power grab, the shameful butchery in Afghanistan and his obsequious Wall Street ass kissing.  After Bill and Hillary Clinton and now Obama, I say to hell with the Democrats!  Don’t vote for them and don’t give them money.  As The Kinks once sang, “There’s got to be something better than this.”

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By FTW, July 21, 2010 at 11:00 pm Link to this comment

It’s a shame that the strongest argument for electing Democrats in November and for re-electing President Obama in 2012 is that his most vocal and highly publicised opponents are such virulent liars and racists…there is so much for which the Democrats can and should be censured but…Breitbart,Palin,Limbaugh,Boehner and the whole Tea Party crowd are merely updating the Nixon Southern Strategy…and it seems to be working so very well with a Black Man in the White House…

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