The right-wing smear machine that cost an exemplary Agriculture Department official her job should be denounced for what it is: a high-tech, low-rent McCarthyism that launches search-and-destroy missions with no purpose but poisonous partisanship.
That the Obama administration keeps retreating whenever this hit squad starts strafing someone — firing Van Jones; disassociating itself from ACORN and contributing to its demise; and this week firing Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod, over a slanderously edited video — is shameful. It only feeds the appetite of the zealots, with dozens now looking to collect pelts to hang on their walls, and propaganda outlets like Fox News, Limbaugh, and others eager to pile on the next target. It demoralizes those in public service generally. And it puts active progressives–any government appointee with a history of activism for the poor and dispossessed–on notice that they may be vulnerable to a random attack, distorting some moment from their past.
This is ugly stuff—and, like McCarthyism, it must be confronted, not coddled or compromised with.
We need more backbone from the administration. It is time for Republican leaders to show the courage and independence of General Eisenhower when he finally put McCarthy in his place. We need progressives to monitor the right-wing hit patrols and expose their lies. And the mainstream media, such as it is, might sensibly draw attention to the partisan and destructive purposes of Fox and other partisan propaganda outlets that willingly provide an echo chamber for the politics of personal destruction.
The Obama administration must realize that this isn’t about independent investigators unearthing government malfeasance. These are ideologically motivated attacks, often relying on distortion and slander, to target individual employees. This is an ideological war against the very principles that a majority of the American people entrusted the Obama administration to champion. When there are allegations of wrongdoing, by all means they should be addressed—through time-honored procedures of due process and truth-seeking, not through the summary execution by video editing software that is the tactic of the Andrew Breitbarts of the world. And, above all, the administration must show that it is championing the kinds of people that Shirley Sherrod was fighting for—by defending champions like Shirley Sherrod when they are under attack.