USA today .. another crackup is on its way?

Jul 26th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
Shirley Sherrod, in happier times.

Shirley Sherrod, in happier times.

Two apparently widely read columns from the New York Times this past weekend finally brought home, for me at any rate, some new hard truths about the changing mood in the USA today: “There’s a Battle Outside and It Is Still Ragin’” by Frank Rich, and Maureen Dowd’s “You’ll Never Believe What This White House Is Missing.”

Both pieces focus on the strange case of Shirley Sherrod — who was recently mistakenly fired from the US Department of Agriculture for supposedly “racist” remarks she didn’t really make, based on a twisted report from “Andrew Breitbart, the dirty trickster notorious for hustling skewed partisan videos on Fox News” (Rich).

Keith Olbermann had already taken time out from his summer vacation for one of his excellent fierce MSNBC special comments on the same subject last week. But Keith is so much on the side of the angels that you tend to discount his sharp words as readings of any more  widespread sentiment. What Mr. Rich and Ms. Dowd did for me was show how the agony about America at the bottom of Olbermann’s fierceness is spreading. (Well, not as far as Fox TV or the various Tea Parties, of course, but …)

Frank Rich’s column has the particular attraction of starting (and ending) with apt allusions to the premiere episode in the fourth season of the great US TV semi-hit “Mad Men,” which also began last night. “Mad Men,” as Rich nicely explains, “is about placid postwar America before it went smash.” In the fourth season it is now 1964, and talk about “civil rights activists murdered in Philadelphia, Miss., in June” of that year makes clear “that the crackup is on its way.”

Eloise Spooner, 82, and her husband, George, 88, at their farm near Iron City, Ga., on Wednesday, July 21, 2010. Their testimony on CNN finally made clear that Shirley Sherrod is anything but a “racist.

Eloise Spooner, 82, and her husband, George, 88, at their farm near Iron City, Ga., on Wednesday, July 21, 2010. Their testimony on CNN finally made clear that Shirley Sherrod is anything but a “racist," regardless of what Fox News says.

Maureen Dowd takes a more straightforward cut at the issue. Her ironic first sentence is: “The Obama White House is too white.” And that explains its initial cowering to Fox Noise in the case of Shirley Sherrod. No one in the “smug cordon of overprotective white guys surrounding” President Obama knew enough about the black scene in contemporary America to appreciate just who Shirley Sherrod really is — and what she was actually saying in the skewed partisan video propagated by Andrew Breitbart. Ms. Dowd ends with: “The president shouldn’t give Sherrod her old job back. He should give her a new job: Director of Black Outreach. This White House needs one.”

Frank Rich’s piece implies that, as in 1964, another crackup is on its way in the USA of 2010: “This country was rightly elated when it elected its first African-American president more than 20 months ago. That high was destined to abate, but we reached a new low last week … We don’t know what history will bring next. But we might at least address the chilling question prompted in ‘Mad Men’ by the horrific events of 46 summers ago — ‘Is that what it takes to change things?’ — before our own summer comes to a boil again.”

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