Al Sharpton, President of the United States?

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Mr. Sleeper, a lecturer in political science at Yale, is the author of Liberal Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

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How will the Rev. Al Sharpton do as a Democratic presidential primary candidate against all those big-time, well-backed white guys? They won't know what hit 'em.

On the evidence of his past campaigns, Sharpton will run rhetorical circles around his "betters," bringing out the populist in many of us and beguiling even some who distrust him. But to what ends? None but his own, although he'll sound like a silver-tongued social democrat heading up a trans-racial crusade in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Watch him at it in a 1992 campaign, when he dropped his theater-impresario's cape and took up the mantle of a Christian civic statesman, pirouetting from disgrace in the Tawana Brawley case into the healer of an old feud-all with a gentle joke.

"I'm afraid I have to disagree with my friend the Rev. Sharpton," New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams had demurred as Sharpton held forth on some election issue in a Democratic Senate primary debate that included Geraldine Ferraro and Elizabeth Holtzman. "I'm afraid I have to disagree that we're friends," quipped Sharpton with a twinkle, bringing down the house. Everyone knew that Abrams had prosecuted Sharpton (unsuccessfully) for tax evasion after leading an investigation that had found his account of the Tawana Brawley case a hoax. Now, the lightning felicity in Sharpton's retort made Abrams seem needlessly ingratiating, grubbing for votes.

It was almost enough to make you forget that four years earlier, Sharpton had characterized Abrams's offer to talk with Brawley as "like asking someone who watched someone killed in the gas chamber to sit down with Mr. Hitler.'' Even some of Sharpton's sympathizers broke with him then, but not for long.

Two years later, just before announcing his challenge to Daniel Patrick Moynihan in that year's New York Democratic 1994 Senate primary, Sharpton opened for Louis Farrakhan before a crowd 25,000. Introduced as "the people's preacher" by Farrakhan's New York lieutenant, Conrad Muhammad, he roared, "We're here today to… stand together. Don't ask who don't like it; we love it! We will stand together, not in some private midnight meeting, but in the daylight we will join hands together!"

Two months later, Sharpton invoked Farrakhan while announcing his candidacy against Moynihan, and Muhammad announced that the Nation of Islam would get more involved in elections through Sharpton's campaign. Moynihan "rose to fame talking about the black family, while I'm a broken family product," Sharpton charged.

It was almost enough to make you forget that while Sharpton's early childhood had been comfortable and he'd used his gift for "talking" about blackness to become a tribune of the oppressed, Moynihan, also from a poor, broken home, had made his youthful living shining other people's shoes. Sharpton the campaigner has often helped Republicans more than Democrats. "One night in South Africa, I came home from Nelson Mandela's inauguration, turned on the TV, and saw Moynihan in the funeral procession for Richard Nixon," he thundered. "He was helping to bury Richard Nixon, while I was helping to bury apartheid!"

It was almost enough to make you forget that in 1986 Sharpton had endorsed outright the "Nixon" of New York politics, Senator Alfonse D'Amato, and, after losing the 1992 nomination to Abrams, had counseled black voters to sit on their hands, helping D'Amato win yet again.

In the 1994 gubernatorial race between incumbent Mario Cuomo and George Pataki, Sharpton told a Harlem rally, "I'm not gonna be a battered wife for the Democratic Party." The first black leader whom the victorious Pataki received in the Governor's mansion three months later was Al Sharpton.

Now Sharpton is lampooning presidential candidate John Edwards's claim to have fought for the "regular guy," challenging Edwards to "name one regular guy he fought for who didn't pay him." Edwards might answer that his courtroom victories have curbed corporate greed, helping "regular guys" who never paid him--and that Sharpton has helped a lot of Republican "guys" who never paid him.

Sharpton's populist, racial theater is dangerous because it is so compelling. He pushes decent whites' racial guilt buttons, setting off a repetition syndrome of trying to get right with black folk by submitting to endless re-stagings of whites' conviction of racial sin, repentance, and, through Sharpton's joshing endearments, absolution.

Some of his public psychodramas, over racial murders in Brooklyn and Queens, were well-justified. But not the Brawley rape that didn't happen, the black-church arson epidemic that didn't happen, the rise in New York police brutality that didn't happen, and the "re-segregation" of California's universities by Prop 209 that didn't happen. It's almost as if Sharpton's white admirers need to keep the coordinates of 1963 racism firmly in place, the better to sustain an old moral clarity instead of facing what's wrong with some color-coded remedies.

Sharpton dines out on that need for false clarity. His populist and salvific rhetoric aside, his eye's on the prize of displacing Jesse Jackson as the black tribune. "Jesse's like an airplane with no airport to land in," Sharpton told me. But now it's he who wants to be first on every runway.

This isn't about justice. It's about racial power brokerage. Sharpton may tickle guilt-ridden liberals and a very few leftists who still think blacks the "cats' paws" of revolution, and I have always believed that somewhere in his big, convoluted heart, he does dream of leading us beyond race to a brighter tomorrow. The sadness behind the fun in his compulsive re-stagings of "Fight the Power" and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s heroic reckonings with America is that he never leaves us anything but a civic equivalent of the dry heaves.

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Abe - 12/10/2003

Well, I'm still a bit shocked that there are people that would actually consider voting Al Sharpton for President of the United States...Then again, I've seen worse...???

From what I've read, Al seems to be a bit more concerned with his personal well being and finances than actually helping the people of the US. His attempt to make his way to the top, while riding the 'racism' route is sickening. Personally, I believe that IF A.S. EVER made it into office, he would keep racism alive and well. Sick...

Barbara Rowley - 10/29/2003

Dear Mr. Sharpton

I am a Federal employee living at 12923 Sutters Lane, Bowie, Maryland 20720. I am writing in hopes that you can do something to correct a serious problem that has occurred.

I have worked as an administrative assistant for the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) since 1999. The NDMS provides medical teams when needed for major natural disasters as well as for terrorist incidents such as the 9/11 attacks.

When the Homeland Security Act passed last year, the NDMS was transferred out of PHS and put into the new Department of Homeland Security, and my co-workers and I have now begun transferring over. This is Ok, except I found out that we will no longer be receiving the child care subsidy that we were receiving when NDMS was still part of PHS. Even though this is a subsidy program for all Federal employees (PL107-67, Section 630, November 12, 2001), it is apparently not being utilized at Homeland Security.

I am proud to do my part to help protect Americnas aganist terrorism, and I will make a sacrifice if I have to. But as a single working mother, I have depended on the childcare subsidy for the past two years ot help raise my family while I do my job for NDMS. I do not see why my co-workers or myself should have to give up our childcare assistance just because our office has moved to Homeland Security.

I hope you can look into this and get Homeland Security to reinstate the childcare allowance for the NDMS employees. Thank you.


Barbara Rowley
Administrative Assistant
Department of Homeland Security
Response Division
500 C street SW, RM 714
Washington, DC 20472
Ph: (202) 646-3672
Fx: (202) 646-4336

Barbara Rowley - 10/29/2003


Christine Carter - 10/23/2003

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Joseph Caramello - 10/21/2003

Al is a raving lunatic like most Democrats (and most Republicans for that matter) but he does have guts, something that puts him a cut above most of our politicians of both parties.

Lou Orlando - 7/7/2003

The man has no education. He never graduated from college. He has no formal education. He's never been elected to any public office. He has never held a position of responsibility in any job he has ever had, has never been held accountable for any of his opinions and is an admitted liar.

Come to think of it, he's the ideal democratic candidate, there's no sense breaking the mold.

George Jochnowitz - 2/10/2003

It was a [leasure to read Jim Sleeper's passionate attack on Al Sharpton. Sharpton has on many occasions engaged in reckless endangerment. During the Crown Heights riots of 1991, after Yankel Rosenbaum had been murdered, Sharpton was making inflammatory remarks linking Jews with apartheid. That should have been the end of his career.

In 1995, Sharpton participated in the demonstrations against Freddy's Fashion Mart, demonstrations that were literally inflammatory, inciting a gunman to shoot people and set the store on fire. That should have ended his political career forever.

On Saturday, December 20, 1998, the Harlem AIDS Forum, sponsored by Sharpton, took place. Speakers repeated dangerous nonsense, such as the following, "The more condoms you're exposed to, the more likely you are to test H. I. V. positive" (cited in The New York Times, Dec. 22, 1998). That in itself should have ended his political career forever.

I sincerely hope that Jim Sleeper's analysis will end Sharpton's political career forever. Sleeper has the knowledge an skill to expose Sharpton's recklessness. Maybe he can make the difference. Who knows?

Steve Lowe - 2/5/2003

Or is it race-baiting? Aside from a couple of weak allusions to Sharpton's disreputable past, what exactly does this article have to do with history? It's barely news, for goodness' sake.

C'mon, HNN. You're the History News network. Can't you aim for at least one of those when you publish something?