Ed O'Keefe provides some insight into the administration's decision making in the firing of Shirley Sherrod:
When this department was established in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln, he referred to it as the people's department," Vilsack told colleague Krissah Thompson in Feburary. "In order to be consistent with that legacy, it's necessary that our programs and our approach reflect an appreciation for everyone's rights. We took a look at [these] prior issues and are in the process of trying to address each of them."
The efforts received little national news coverage until this week when a three-minute clip of Sherrod's now-infamous speech surfaced. Her message -- that Americans need to see beyond a person's skin color -- was tainted by an impolitic delivery White House officials consider too damaging.
"This controversy could make it more difficult to move forward on correcting injustices," Vilsack said Tuesday, adding later that, "the controversy surrounding [Sherrod's] comments would create situations where her decisions, rightly or wrongly, would be called into question making it difficult for her to bring jobs to Georgia."
Indeed, Vilsack has been at the forefront of an effort to resolve the USDA's history of discrimination against black farmers, proclaiming a "New Civil Rights Era" for the USDA in a memo in April of 2009, and announcing a new method for processing the backlog of more than 3,000 complaints left over from the prior administration. In February, the administration reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed by black farmers because the previous lawsuit excluded a large number of them from relief. According to The Washington Post, Attorney General Eric Holder took a personal interest in the settlement. The issue was a cause for Barack Obama when he was a senator and has clearly been a priority for his administration.
It really sounds like Shirley Sherrod was fired because the administration was petrified of facing accusations of racial favoritism. The context didn't matter; all that mattered was that in the midst of a summer filled with manufactured racial controversy, the administration might now have to worry about the right focusing its attention on efforts to resolve decades of widespread systemic discrimination against black farmers.