Political Animal


January 30, 2013 12:25 PM The Divergent Fates of Sarah Palin and Shirley Sherrod

By Ryan Cooper

With the recent retirement of Sarah Palin from her grotesquely lucrative career as a Fox commentator, I immediately thought of another person who was inadvertently catapulted to national prominence: Shirley Sherrod (backstory here). Not to compare the content of their thoughts or ideologies, of course, just the trajectory of their lives. Because Sherrod could have easily parleyed her burst of fame into one of those sumptuous TV commentator/author/lecturer careers, abandoning all her previous work and crisscrossing the country to give milquetoast addresses to executive retreats.

But she did not. Instead, even after both she and a nonprofit she works for got a sizable settlement from the USDA for discrimination in decades past, she didn’t change much. She still does the same thing she’s always done: help poor farmers in rural Georgia, where she grew up. I interviewed her for our latest issue; here’s what she’s done with part of the money:

With that money, and under Sherrod’s leadership, New Communities was able in June 2011 to buy a new piece of property, called Cypress Pond. A 1,638-acre estate, complete with a colossal white-pillared antebellum mansion, it was originally owned by the largest slaveholder and richest man in Georgia. Due to the housing collapse, the price had been marked down from $21 million to $4.5 million. Sherrod plans to establish an agricultural training program there, as well as a program that will bring local blacks and whites together in partnership and promote racial healing. The old mansion is currently being renovated to make room for a conference center and additional meeting space. “White and black together in this area, I think it becomes the perfect place for being helpful in getting folks to get beyond race,” she says. In the meantime, they’re doing some actual farming. Just over the last year, they harvested $50,000 worth of pecans from previously planted trees to help defray maintenance costs.

I’ve always suspected that beneath all that resentment Sarah Palin is desperately insecure and unhappy with a life of wretched excess and consumption. The $75,000 spending binge at Neiman Marcus, the tawdry tabloid family drama, the failed reality TV show; it’s like something out of a warning pamphlet for lottery winners on how money can ruin your life. Sadly ironic perhaps that the better, more fulfilling life path led to the pastoral farmlands of the Republican dreamscape and not to New York glamour and fame.

There’s a lot more to the Sherrod Story—check out the rest here. A very impressive woman.


Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • c u n d gulag on January 30, 2013 1:36 PM:

    This an example of "The Grifty," and "The Goodly."

    Don't cry for Sarah "The Whore of Babblin'-on" Palin too much.
    With her pitch-perfect sense of Conservative aggrievement, inablility to reason, thin skin, and inherent lunacy, she has a long and lucrative career in Wingnut Welfare.

    I see her propelling her grifting money, and jumping into the 2016 Republican Primaries.
    Just to stock-up on some more easy money from the rubes.

  • bdop4 on January 30, 2013 1:40 PM:

    c u n d gulag nails it, as usual.

    Sherrod's wise investment of her windfall is an example of what happens when you have real ideals and goals. You use the money to fulfill them and thereby enrich yourself, as opposed to feeding the insatiable pit that exists in poor Sarah's heart.

  • exlibra on January 30, 2013 2:07 PM:

    What prompted you to compare the two in the first place? The only thing they have in common is that both are female. But Sherrod's rise to prominence (fleeting) was due to her being unjustly cut down. Palin's rise (longer and much higher) to prominence was due to her unjustifiable elevation (by McCain). Two totally different stories.

    We have a saying in Polish "what does gingerbread have to do with a windmill?" (co ma piernik do wiatraka?), which ridicules silly/impossible comparisons. But, even that one requires less stretching (windmill grinds grain for flour, gingerbread is made with flour)

  • G.Kerby on January 30, 2013 5:15 PM:

    A Very classy woman, Shirley Sherrod is.

  • g on January 30, 2013 7:11 PM:

    I disagree that Palin has a long career in wingnut welfare. I don't think she has the ability to work that hard.

    she may continue to grift along exploiting a sliver of the conservative world, but she's destroyed her brand.

    She doesn't even have the gravitas and dignity of Herman Cain.

  • Citizen Alan on January 30, 2013 7:28 PM:

    I don't think I've ever taken as much grim satisfaction out of the death of another human being as I did upon the passing of Andrew Breitbart. What he did to Shirley Sherrod was only one of the many things that make him, IMO, one of the vilest people America has produced in the last twenty years, and by far the vilest to not actually be serving as a Republican office-holder.

  • gmoke on January 30, 2013 8:19 PM:

    Shirley Sherrod is married to the Reverend Charles Sherrod who was an organizer for SNCC back in the day. That family are American heroes of long, long standing. The full story of their lives should be told, although Charles Sherrod is well-known for his reticence.

  • kk on January 31, 2013 1:20 AM:

    @exlibra: As gmoke points out, one of the basic grounds for comparison is their approach to their faith. Sherrod models what a Christian does with her talents. I won't comment on Palin.

  • Yellow Dog on January 31, 2013 9:07 AM:

    If you haven't read Sherrod's book The Courage to Hope, I strongly encourage you to do so. It's beautifully written and deeply inspiring - the definition of a life well-lived and making your little part of the world a better place than you found it.