Congratulations, Andrew Breitbart. You might have just cost the Tea Party my vote.
Last week when I wrote ''How the Tea Party Could Get My Vote'' for The Root, I said what should already be pretty obvious: There are plenty of African Americans who enjoy conservative talk radio, who bristle when paying their income taxes and who envy (sort of) the rollicking, ''No co-pay, no peace!'' cri de coeur of Tea Party rallies.
Not too many black folks want to see a lady like Shirley Sherrod get railroaded.
You know the story. On Big Government, Breitbart published an excerpted 2009 video of Sherrod, a black USDA appointee, speaking to the NAACP. In the clip, Sherrod describes how, as a farmers' rights advocate in 1986, she assisted — reluctantly at first — a white farmer facing foreclosure. Breitbart somehow took that as proof that ''the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus do not want racial harmony.''
But in the video of the full speech, it's clear not only that Sherrod went on to help that farmer but that the speech was a testimony about coming to terms with her own prejudice, and gaining the perspective that it's ''not so much about black and white.''
In the course of a week, Sherrod was called racist, resigned under pressure, was vindicated, apologized to by White House staff — and offered a new job by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. If Breitbart's goal was to tie Vilsack and the Obama administration up in knots, he can claim ''Mission Accomplished.''
But if he's claiming the race-relations moral high ground for the Tea Party, he failed miserably.
Last week I rapped the NAACP for wasting valuable time on calling out Tea Party racism. But that doesn't mean that I thought there wasn't any racism in any of the varied Tea Party organizations. There's too much ''birther'' rhetoric out there — and way too many infamous Tea Party posters like the one depicting President Barack Obama as a ''witch doctor'' with a bone in his nose.
Breitbart told Fox News' Sean Hannity that he posted the video in response to the NAACP ''tarring the American and the Tea Party movement with the false charge of racism'' — as if he could ''prove'' that the Tea Party wasn't racist by falsely accusing Sherrod.
Even if Sherrod was a committed racist — she clearly isn't — at best, Breitbart would have succeeded only in pointing out one individual racist in the NAACP. Unless he's also saying that there's not even one individual racist in the Tea Party — like, say, Mark Williams, who got thrown out of the Tea Party just last week for joking that freed black slaves didn't ''cotton'' to freedom — then he's pushing a double standard.
His apparent thesis — NAACP equals black equals Democrats equals the enemy — betrays a bias of its own. It's probably too much to assume he already knows that African Americans generally see the NAACP as a fairly stodgy, old-line advocacy group, led for 15 years by Benjamin Hooks, a Republican who was in the Nixon administration.
And unless I'm missing something, Breitbart's ''I'm rubber; you're glue'' approach to the issue doesn't show too much confidence in the appeal of what's billed as the Tea Party's core message: trimming federal waste and flattening out income taxes.
But Breitbart did exactly what the Tea Party complains has been done to them.
At its essence, the moral of the story Sherrod tried to tell in her speech is simple — it's straight out of Broadway's Avenue Q: ''Everyone's a little bit racist … sometimes … '':
In the long wind-up of her speech, Sherrod, whose father was killed by a white farmer when she was 17, talked about her client's unwelcome ''superior'' attitude, and how she initially wanted to pawn him off on ''one of his own.'' It's not PC, but it's honest storytelling. What's striking about the public — and the media's — initial reaction to her speech is that it was so easily spun as a racist diatribe. Even if you hear only the edited clip, to conclude that she's working up to an indictment of white people, you almost have to want it to be that way — we're conditioned to look for racism in everything.
Sherrod's story is really how it's supposed to go. People confront their biases, and they evolve. As a group, the Tea Party hasn't done that yet. I'm still prepared to believe Tea Partiers who say their anger at the government isn't motivated by bigotry. If Breitbart wants to criticize the media's ''poking and prodding at the racial hornet's nest that was supposed to have been removed'' after Obama's election, that's fair enough.
But he won't win the Tea Party any points until he can admit that's exactly what he did.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.