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Peter Hart
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Peter Hart

Peter Hart is chairman of Hart Research, a firm that does the public opinion polling for NBC/Wall Street Journal.

A hero of government service

Q: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acted too quickly in removing Shirley Sherrod from her USDA job. How can today's leaders assess when to move quickly and when to hang back?

The issue of Shirley Sherrod is really one of the more revelatory in the last couple of years. It tells us about the media, the Obama administration, the political process, and about people who work for the federal government.

I am tempted to dwell on the electronic and blogosphere media and how they fail to step back from stories and ask the basic questions that good editors ask: "Is this the full story?" Suffice it to say, the new, 24-hour media cycle has shown that it is no longer about getting it right, it's just a matter of "getting it" and "going with it." We can hope that everyone in this world of instant news and punditry has learned something, but I fear it is a lesson that will last no longer than the next "hot scoop."

What fascinates me about this story is Shirley Sherrod, not only as a person, but as another shining example of people who serve America. Like most, she would have served in total anonymity were it not for this event. As she is suddenly thrust into the spotlight, she reveals herself to be a remarkable, well grounded and gifted person and a great choice for her job--committed, qualified, and humble. Her cause of helping rural farmers and African Americans is noble. I commend those who found her and appointed her.

But the larger lesson is really about how remarkable so many of the people serving in the federal government are and how dedicated they are in their service. We applaud those who serve in the military. But unless the spotlight shines on a Shirley Sherrod, we do not see how special and marvelous are those in public service -- "the bureaucrats."

Look everywhere -- the Bureau of Land Management or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Transportation Safety Board--their employees work hard, they care, and they do their work without fanfare.

Living in Washington, I know many special, talented people who work every day to make government serve people. My brother-in-law did this for 40 years. He negotiated contracts for the Energy Department, and, believe me, he got every last penny in contracts with suppliers. He negotiated with them with the same vehemence he brought to negotiating for his van. It is only when a Lenny Skutnik, the federal worker who was the hero of the Air Florida Flight 90 crash rescue, or a Shirley Sherrod are singled out that we know how fortunate we are to have people who represent the government with such special skills.

This teachable moment is just a moment of appreciation. I tip my cap to Shirley and convey thanks to all who serve in government with distinction and dedication.

By Peter Hart

 |  July 23, 2010; 4:00 PM ET
Category:  Failures Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Ms. Sherrod admitted that she did not put forth the effort to help a white farmer that she put forth to help black farmers, and did so because of his race. How in the world can anyone say sh is not racist, or at least WAS racist at that point in time. And it really doesn't matter what the white farmer says. If instead of discriminating against him, she had shot him, and admitted that she shot him, he could say she hadn't shot him for the rest of his life and it still wouldn't take away the bullet wound, and it wouldn't make her innocent of shooting him.

Posted by: AmericanWithABrain | July 27, 2010 3:29 PM
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So the brainless right wing hacks continue to try to perpetuate the vicious lies put forth by Breitbart. They haven't even got the decency of O'Reilly who apologized for being taken in by the lies. Any honest person who listens to the full talk provided by the NAACP will see beginning at about 20 minutes that she says directly that the problem is about haves vs. have-nots regardless of race. She makes no racist statements whatsoever and in fact her stated position is the opposite of racism. She points out that her original doubts were soon overcome and she put in a great deal of effort to help the white farmer. The white farmer has testified that she did a great deal to save his farm, and has angrily dismissed the claim that she is racist. She actually IS a hero. Her father was killed by racists but she managed to overcome her understandable anger at the racism she experienced, and urges her audience NOT to see the issue she is talking about it racial terms. I don't think I could do this if I had shared her experience.
Posted by: twm1 | July 24, 2010 12:29 AM
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I love the way the Dems, the Whitehouse, and their Media reacted. I love the way Fox News chases the Whitehouse around. They were in panic, that Ms Sherrod would "not quit" before Glenn Beck broke the story on TV. O'bama has Glenn's phone
nuamber. A simple call would've saved a lot of confusion, and anguish.
Dennis

Posted by: Shadowsmgc | July 24, 2010 6:50 AM
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This pig is no heroin. She's just a petty tyrant who got betrayed by her own.

Posted by: carlbatey | July 24, 2010 2:34 AM
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Personally i think we should have picked our own damn cotton and this problem wouldn't exist. Our cities would be a whole lot safer also
Posted by: jerzyguy29 | July 24, 2010 12:58 AM
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There's no cotton in Jersey. I lived there for 20 years, and I never saw cotton there, except in my underwear. I've picked cotton. It would've been easy to do.
I saw a field of cotton, in Alabama, last year.
Dennis

Posted by: Shadowsmgc | July 24, 2010 1:41 AM
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Much has been done wrong to her. The fact remains that she herself is a white hater and in no position to be a ;civil rights; czar' at the USDA. That is just common sense. However since the city has become a Kafkaesque joke it does make perfect sense.

Posted by: Phil5 | July 24, 2010 1:35 AM
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Hopefully, America has finally learned never to trust a conservative blogger, ever again. They've been burned by them too many times.

Posted by: B2O2 | July 24, 2010 1:23 AM
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Personally i think we should have picked our own damn cotton and this problem wouldn't exist. Our cities would be a whole lot safer also

Posted by: jerzyguy29 | July 24, 2010 12:58 AM
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Heroes for the left are often race-baiters like Sherrod and Obama. They use race to obfuscate the issues.

Posted by: WJStephens | July 24, 2010 12:57 AM
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Oh, I don't think she's particularly a hero ... she might be if she had criticized the fools in the Obama administration as heartily as she did Fox News...

Posted by: JPMcC | July 24, 2010 12:57 AM
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So the brainless right wing hacks continue to try to perpetuate the vicious lies put forth by Breitbart. They haven't even got the decency of O'Reilly who apologized for being taken in by the lies. Any honest person who listens to the full talk provided by the NAACP will see beginning at about 20 minutes that she says directly that the problem is about haves vs. have-nots regardless of race. She makes no racist statements whatsoever and in fact her stated position is the opposite of racism. She points out that her original doubts were soon overcome and she put in a great deal of effort to help the white farmer. The white farmer has testified that she did a great deal to save his farm, and has angrily dismissed the claim that she is racist. She actually IS a hero. Her father was killed by racists but she managed to overcome her understandable anger at the racism she experienced, and urges her audience NOT to see the issue she is talking about it racial terms. I don't think I could do this if I had shared her experience.

Posted by: twm1 | July 24, 2010 12:29 AM
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Whether Sherrod is a political hack or a hero is not the issue people. It's all about our media, that is the story in this. Today's media is about taking bits of information and trying to make a story about it with no journalism involved. In particular these Fox News people are definitely not journalists; they are entertainers at best, and political assassins at worst. I don't understand why O'Reilly or Hannity can't get sued for all they're worth for what they did, and the head of the Dept of Ag should be fired. However the main point is many Americans are morons who don't the difference between Fox news and journalism. And they should get the government they deserve which is a do nothing one.

Posted by: graz_vince | July 24, 2010 12:28 AM
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FYI Greg3 Africa is not a country, neither is Europe, Asia nor the Americas for that matter. These are CONTINENTS with many countries(Africa has 54 countries ... and fyi the Democratic Republic of the Congo is larger than the whole of Western Europe ... check it out Google Maps). BTW, the Carolinas are not countries either.

Posted by: maulima | July 23, 2010 11:59 PM
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Ms. Sherrod is no Joan of Arc. The real issue is scoundrels who lack scruples with respect to the words of others. Amazing is how they can live with themselves, having done this to a relatively private person (she is not an elected official) doing a excellent job for little or no glory. Why ruin the life of someone you do not know, someone who never hurt you?

Posted by: Martial | July 23, 2010 11:48 PM
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Sherrod is a ZERO! In about 20 minutes, no one will even remember what the issue is.

Posted by: crowne2 | July 23, 2010 11:28 PM
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To compare this overpaid political hack to Lenny Skutnik is simply nauseating

Posted by: devluddite | July 23, 2010 11:27 PM
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To the left of course she is a hero, she can claim the vaulted status of VICTIM for a whole 24 hours.
Listening to Ms Sherrod's racist ranting over the last 24 hours she seems intent on proving what was originally alleged.

Posted by: devluddite | July 23, 2010 11:25 PM
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I respectfully disagree. I have listened to the full tape. I have listened to many interviews Ms. Sherrod has given. Hero? No. Shining example of those who serve America? Her behavior and subsequent interviews are not equivalent to being compared to "shining example". "remarkable, well grounded and gifted person"? How do you know that? Did you work with her? Do you know her personally? Have you known her all these years? The media is making it their goal to push Ms. Sherrod forward as someone we need to applaud and hold as our example. Thank you, no. I have heard all I need to hear and that is no example I wish to use.

Tell this whole story, using all the videotapes and interviews, substituting Ms. Sherrod for say George Allen or Bobby Jindal or any other republican male and you would not have the same media sympathetic, glorifying response.

Posted by: CuckoosNest | July 23, 2010 10:03 PM
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Sherrod is no hero. She is just another liberal hack that is full of hate. People like her are a dime a dozen in the federal government. She pretends to be a reformed racist and then spews hate talk toward those she disagrees with politically. Sherrod is the poster child for modern black reverse racism.

Posted by: MikeJ9116 | July 23, 2010 9:44 PM
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"Gifted public servant." Hearing the phrase makes me want to vomit. They are ALL parasites.

POSTED BY: GREG3 | JULY 23, 2010 9:18 PM
***********

Sort of like some dweeb named Greg living in his mommy's basement taking potshots at people who never have to hear "son, when are you going to move out? You are eating us out of house and home."

Go back to downloading porn, already...

Posted by: LABC | July 23, 2010 9:42 PM
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She was certainly wronged in this instance, but (like brice333 said) how the heck do we know anything about her actual performance in her job?

Maybe she gives lots of speeches because there's plenty of free time where she works.

Posted by: capsfan77 | July 23, 2010 9:39 PM
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What I want to know is why isn't Shirley Sherrod being branded as much of a coward as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack? If she felt she was in the right the whole time, why wasn't she brave enough to refuse to resign? Hero? No.

Posted by: joemdavis55 | July 23, 2010 9:38 PM
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Keep in mind, those great government workers who watch porn all day. (SEC, Pentagon).

How about the census worker who turned in 11,000 phoney names and addresses.

Posted by: cpameetingbook
...............................
Yes no one in private business watches porn, especially none of the private contractors on government contracts.

That one census worker is evidence of the failure of government workers when billion dollar federal contracts have to be abandoned because of the private contractors who spent the money knowing full well that they would not be able to satisfy the contract.

Private businesses are highly ethical even though in 2008 we saw many cases of top employees in private companies who willing to burn down their companies if it meant high bonuses for themselves.

Two months of an oil well destroying the Gulf of Mexico run by private business on one side and on the other the one census worker.

It is time to stop praising the virtues of private business and stop drinking the kool aid that the Federal government can not do anything.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 23, 2010 9:23 PM
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Mr. Hart, thank you for your praise. Our men and women in uniform deserve the praise they get (I serve among them) but at the same time, there are plenty of folks like my parents who are Foreign Service Officers who serve anonymously and with more distinction than the ones who they serve at the pleasure of, who are elected or appointed. People bash on the bureaucracy but they have one incentive: Make the world a better place. They are not (cannot) enrich themselves and many of them could find better paying jobs elsewhere but they stick with it because they believe in what they do, they believe that they are making their nation a better place. And they are. Thank you.

Posted by: firsttofire01 | July 23, 2010 9:19 PM
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"Gifted public servant." Hearing the phrase makes me want to vomit. They are ALL parasites.

Posted by: greg3 | July 23, 2010 9:18 PM
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The real isue might not have been race at all. Anyone who has traveled around the world and especially in 'developing' countries would have known immediately what the government worker's attutude was when she expressed the idea that this 'supplicant' for her help had committed the crime of being 'superior' to a government official. In 'developing' countries like Africa, Indonesia, Venezuala or the Carolinas, it is an ourtrage for a mere farmer of any color to have an attitude that he is 'superior' to a government official. There was no mistaking the official's comments about the farmer not showing the proper respect for a government official in either his manner or in the lack of customery gifts to the official.
A comment from Jordan.

Posted by: salmunalfarsi | July 23, 2010 8:02 PM
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I agree w/ your assessment Mr. Hart. Ms. Sherrod embodies much of what is good and decent in our fellow Americans. Her attempt to speak to difficulties, challenges w/ personal bias and working to acknowledge and overcome those things.

The other comments on this post, all negative, seem to suggest that you go too far in offering praise. That in 'fairmindedness' we should not assume that she is a good person, a hard worker. All I can say is - she came to public attention by a deliberately edited video whose purpose was to twist her words to mean the exact opposite of what she said; she was vindicated when the full video was made available; the White House acted cowardly; Breitbart is simply being who he is - a right-wing activist who believes in no-holds-barred, unethical approaches to politics; the farmers she was 'disparaging' in her speech have come to her defense. I cannot speak to her other abilities, but for what she was accused of, she was totally vindicated. Those who refuse to see that simply do not want to be honest about what happened.

Posted by: thesack | July 23, 2010 7:31 PM
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Mr. Hart.

You need to change your meds. Have a LOOK.

http://gatewaypundit.firstthings.com/2010/07/shocking-video-what-the-msm-wont-show-you-from-shirley-sherrods-outrageous-speech/

Posted by: craigslsst | July 23, 2010 6:59 PM
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The sainted Shirley Sherrod wasted no time in rushing to Judgement against Fox News, without having ANY, let alone all, the facts. Shirley said she wanted to talk to Obama. Humble? Maybe she'll get a show on PBS like Skip. Has Shirley let loose on the Tea Partiers yet?
Marvelous and special bureaucrats? You mean the ones who get twice as much pay and benefits for doing the same things that people in the private sector do? Who is this Hart clown, anyway, besides a pollster? Boy, I bet we can all guess what the result of the next few polls are going to be. "America loves Bureaucrats."
Nothing like influencing the outcome of your polls with a ridiculous piece in the Washington Post, is there? The stuff that appears on these pages gets more bizarre every day.

Posted by: chatard | July 23, 2010 6:58 PM
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How do we know she's a dedicated public servant? Based on what? Was she good at her job? What did her last performance review look like? Or did her job just consist of giving political speeches to political groups? The same rush to judgement that was made before is being made now, but in the opposite direction.

Also, where is her immediate supervisor in all this? Did they know (and approve) of her giving political speeches as an USDA employee? Had they heard the speech before?

I'm waiting on a journalist (if there are any left) to ask those questions.

Posted by: brice333 | July 23, 2010 6:29 PM
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Keep in mind, those great government workers who watch porn all day. (SEC, Pentagon).

How about the census worker who turned in 11,000 phoney names and addresses.

Posted by: cpameetingbook | July 23, 2010 6:00 PM
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"Shirley" you jest. The woman admitted to discriminating against someone based on race. The media crucified Trent Lott for a lot less. And he apologized but it didn't get him back any of the powerful positions he was stripped of for what he said. And let’s not forget, what he said was not blatantly racist; a great deal had to be read into his statement before it could even be wildly construed to be racist. But we'll just forget all about that. There are also reports that no one seems to be following up on about a lawsuit against the USDA that she and her husband were on the winning side of to the tune of $500K or so, and there's a possibility that she got the USDA job as part of that deal. None of the media are talking about that. What are you talking about? You are comparing a woman doing a paper pushing, glorified clerical position to a rescue worker who risks his life in the course of his work. Let's just craft a suit that's a cross between Superwoman and Mother Teresa and put Ms. Sherrod in it. Maybe we tie a few white folks to the whippin' post and let her whip them and make them pay her cash reparations too. That would make Politically correct apologists like you all giddy with joy.

Posted by: AmericanWithABrain | July 23, 2010 5:25 PM
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