Jewish World Review August 23, 2001 / 4 Elul, 5761

Clarence Page

Clarence Page
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Sharpton for president -- A RACE for the White House by the Rev. Al Sharpton? Why not? He's good at losing.

He's already lost a race for the Senate in 1994. He lost another race in 1997 for mayor of New York City. Big Al does not think small. He's ready to lose big time.

That's OK. Losing presidential races can be an excellent career move. It can make you famous or, in a case like his, more famous. You can make a political point and set yourself up nicely for other goodies like book contracts, lucrative lecture fees and who knows?

Maybe you can end up with your own radio talk show. If you play your cards right, people who hardly knew you before suddenly want to know what you think.

It is not quite true that every child in America can grow up to be president. But every child can grow up to run for president, and sometimes it seems as though everyone is trying. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who Sharpton has been trying to nudge aside as the nation's premier media-anointed black leader, showed how to lose a presidential campaign in grand style in 1984 and 1988. The names of Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, Alan Keyes and Ralph Nader also spring to mind in the political also-ran sweepstakes.

With role models like that, it is not surprising that Sharpton would be in the National Press Club earlier this week to announce a committee to explore a possible bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Best-selling author Cornel West, a Harvard professor of African-American studies and philosophy who backed Bill Bradley in 2000, will head the committee.

Every presidential campaign in recent decades has its gadfly candidates. Each has influenced the national debate. Sharpton is working on getting his bid in early, if he runs, and I expect he will. In the world of black activism, he must, as they say in marketing, "build" his "brand."

I also expect him to lose. Political winners in this rapidly diversifying country are good at forming coalitions across racial, ethnic and economic lines. For all of his "outreach" talk, Sharpton's a divider, not a uniter.

Sure, he's taken on some worthy causes over the years, and he is trying in his own colorful way to reach out beyond his black base. His popularity among Puerto Ricans, an important New York City constituency, grew when his protests of U.S. military bomb tests on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques led to his serving a 90-day sentence in federal prison.

But he's running for president of the United States, not just of Puerto Rico. For that, he'll need a lot of votes he is not going to get. He won't get them because of two words more than any other: Tawana Brawley.

In 1987, Sharpton seized the national spotlight by accusing a white prosecutor and other law enforcement officers of raping and brutalizing Brawley, a black teen-ager in upstate New York. A grand jury later determined that Brawley made up the incident, and Sharpton, along with two associates, was ordered to pay $345,000 in a defamation suit. Sharpton's share was paid by a group of black businessmen.

Yet, Sharpton seems unable to bring himself to apologize or even express regret for the Brawley episode or anything else he has done in his career of activism, not even in his news conference, which I attended. That's his right. It is also the right of others to be outraged by him, which many are. Polls show him to be as loathed by whites as he is appreciated or, at least tolerated, by blacks.

In one poll that was taken last fall by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think tank specializing in black policy issues, 41 percent of the public viewed him unfavorably and only 10 percent viewed him favorably. He fared a bit better among blacks - 37 percent "favorable" to 29 percent "unfavorable."

But it really must have pained Sharpton deeply to hear that almost half of the nation - 44 percent - said they never heard of him, despite his tireless self-promotion. Even 25 percent of African-Americans said they didn't know who he was, the poll found. He's got to build his brand. What better way than to run for president?

"Who will lead America's blacks," reads a headline on the cover of The Economist, a leading British newsweekly. The article inside concludes that, "The publicity-driven tactics of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton look increasingly tired and irrelevant. Black America needs a new generation of leaders."

We have a new generation of leaders already, whether the media happen to notice or not. In fact, several of them occupy highest offices of the media. Black America has leaders in every sector of American life, sectors in which we would have been denied entry-level positions three or four decades ago.

Racial progress has reduced our need as African-Americans for racial-grievance leaders like Jackson and Sharpton, but America has not progressed enough to put them out of business. As long as racial minorities feel insecure about their rights and opportunities, racial grievance leaders will have a constituency.

More important than the question of who will lead America's blacks is, who will lead America? You don't have to be a genius to figure out that it is not going to be Reverend Al.

At most, he's a sideshow, amusing when he is not being inflammatory, which is not often. If he runs, he wins by losing. The rest of us only lose.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks

© 2001 TMS