In this image from video provided by the NAACP, Shirley Sherrod is shown speaking in March, 2010, at a local NAACP banquet in Georgia.
As soon as much of the available evidence suggested that Shirley Sherrod had become the victim of a rush to judgment by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, it became clear President Barack Obama had a mushrooming political problem on his hands.
Sherrod went from being the villain of the piece to a figure drawing great empathy from millions, not the least of which was conservative talk show host Glen Beck.
And among those who were most closely watching the president’s handling of affair were important members of the president’s base, people he could ill afford to alienate: African Americans and liberals.
While Obama remains popular, his poll numbers are significantly lower than they were earlier in the year. His support among independents who helped propel him to the presidency has steadily eroded.
That was worrisome enough for Democrats during a mid-term election year.
But then the Sherrod affair threatened to hurt the president with some of the most members of the Democratic base.
A quick scan of liberal and African American blogs revealed the problem for the White House.
Over at the Field Negro blog, Wayne Bennett, the Philadelphia lawyer who writes the blog wrote:
Ms. Sherrod, I go to an excellent cleaner here in Philly. They will do a great job of getting those tire marks off the back of your beautiful dress. Still, I bet that bus must have been pretty heavy.
Don't worry, your back will recover. Just ask some of the other Negroes who found themselves under the O bus what they used to make themselves feel better.
Seriously, have you all ever seen a brother so afraid of appearing racial than his O ness? No wonder the wingnuts over at Roger's (You remember Roger, right? He gave A-merry-ca Willie Horton) propaganda station are having so much fun playing the race card with him. Every time he tries to distance himself from you Negroes and be the president for all A-merry-ca, they pull him back in.
Over at the Oliver Willis’ blog, there’s a post with the headline:
On DailyKos.com brooklynbadboy quotes a report about the White House reaction that was found on CNN’s Political Ticker blog then springboards from there:
"We did not pressure USDA or Ms. Sherrod," a White House official reportedly wrote in an email on Tuesday to The Washington Post.
I guess the buck stops somewhere else.
The White House needs to get off this stance and start showing some sympathy toward Ms. Sherrod. She has, clearly, been done terribly wrong by the White Supremacist fringe of the Republican Party. The White House acts like they are afraid of a bunch of bigots.
Martin Luther King, Jr. would be sickened by how this White House has behaved toward this woman.
Some racist bigot makes an accusation against her and they don't even waste one minute before firing her without review. Yet when the truth comes out, they don't re-hire her on the spot. Then, and only then, are they willing to conduct a review. Disgusting.
You get the picture. Many liberals are already disappointed with Obama for a number of compromises he’s made to date: not pushing for a public option in his health care overhaul, doubling down in Afghanistan, not going far enough in their minds on the financial overhaul to rein in large banks. And then this.
So the mishandling of the Sherrod affair only added to the sense of unhappiness held by many of Obama’s most ardent supporters. That’s obviously not a situation conducive to energizing voters and getting them out to the polls for the mid-term and beyond.
The White House’s problems were only compounded by compelling details that kept emerging about Sherrod’s past. Her father was killed by a Ku Klux Klan member in 1965. She herself was involved in the civil rights movement. She and her husband won $13 million as part of a larger settlement of a lawsuit by a group of black farmers who won a landmark discrimination suit against, wait for it, the USDA.
Then there was the little problem of the white farmer who was the subject of Sherrod’s story about the mixed feelings she had about helping him 24 years ago. The farmer and his wife both sung Sherrod’s praises on national TV.
Adding to the pressure was Wednesday's statement by the Congressional Black Caucus calling for Sherrod's reinstatement:
“It is troubling that Shirley Sherrod was asked for her resignation as Georgia State Director for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of an edited video clip. A full review of the clip demonstrates Ms. Sherrod’s personal transformation. She was clearly educating the public about the power of redemption. It is now apparent that Secretary Vilsack did not have all of the facts available to him and overreacted.
“The Congressional Black Caucus continues to believe that Ms. Sherrod was unfairly asked to resign, without due process and should be reinstated immediately. There are many individuals still serving in the Department of Agriculture who were responsible for years of discrimination against African American farmers.
Obama, the first African-American in the Oval Office, has been the president who has had to navigate the tricky subject of race more carefully than any of his predecessors, like a man picking his way through a minefield where one mistake could be his last.
During the presidential campaign, for instance, he was forced by the explosive utterances of his former preacher Rev. Jeremiah Wright's to confront the subject head on in a speech in Philadelphia called "A More Perfect Union." The speech may have saved his campaign.
Then there was the famous beer summit he hosted between police Sgt. James Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates after the scholar's arrest sparked a national debate on race relations.
So far, it appears Obama has successfully navigated the dangerous terrain. We'll have to wait to see what happens with the review in the Sherrod case.
But little that he's done so far suggests that the president has lost his footing when it comes to making his way safely out of the racial minefield.