I was reading this editorial about the Shirley Sherrod debacle at the Nation by Melissa Harris Lacewell, when a little thought crossed my mind. Breitbart* must have assumed, on some level, that this would work. Riding high from his attacks on ACORN, and having suffered little blowback when his minions tried to tap a freaking Senator’s phone, I doubt he expected his frame-up of an obscure Obama administration official to backfire. There are a lot of variables there, most of which he correctly calculated–that the administration would react out of fear immediately (see Van Jones), that the media would give him press. There were only a few places where things didn’t go as expected: Sherrod stood up for herself rather than back away quietly, and the family she was accused of discriminating against stood up for her.
A lot has already been said about this whole thing, more completely and eloquently than I can say it. But reading Harris-Lacewell’s article, one thing stands out. Brietbart must have assumed that the poor white family in question, the Spooners, wouldn’t come forward. That either they were redneck Georgia nobodies who wouldn’t notice they were being used in a blogospheric/inside-the-beltway scandal, or that they would stay silent if they did. What he did not anticipate was that they’d put their human decency and friendship with Sherrod ahead of racial loyalty, and call up CNN to tell the nearest reporter what was what.
In the Teabagger Mythos, it’s basically unthinkable that anyone with such impeccable Real Americans ™ credentials as the Spooners (Farmers? Check. White? Check. From an especially Real American state? Check. And so on) would have a 20 year friendship with a federal official. It’s impossible that they would regard a woman of color who had any sort of power over them with anything but the rankest contempt, no matter how she used that power–even if it was to save their asses in a time of crisis.
Now, I don’t think they deserve endless reams of praise for this. I doubt there was any risk for them in doing so. And between Brietbart’s outright lying and everything Sherrod had done for them, it’s more like they would have been horrible people for not stepping forward. And it’s not fair that their word should carry so much weight, above Sherrod’s own, and even when the unedited video of her actual remarks is readily available.
But I will say this: When poor white farmers in Georgia build relationships with their black neighbors, and when they put defending those friends ahead of letting some white guy across the country exploit them for political gain, the conservative movement in America will be fucked. I dare say they never saw it coming.
*I am assuming Brietbart intentionally posted an edited video to attack Sherrod. The subtext, of course, insinuated that under the Obama administration the USDA would discriminate against white farmers, when in fact the USDA has a long history of discrimination against farmers of color, and moreover Sherrod was working for an independent group when she helped the Spooners find the bankruptcy lawyer who helped them keep their farm.