Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 2002 / 12 Mar-Cheshvan 5763
Take Sharpton seriously? For Prez??
News alert: After much careful consideration and agonizing consideration, the Rev. Al Sharpton is declaring his candidacy for the 2004 presidential race. Sort of.
At least, that's the impression I received on page 4 in Rev. Al's new political memoir, "Al on America."
"And it is on those qualities that I am seeking the Presidency of the United States of America in 2004," he wrote.
Oh? Ever since his August, 2001, news conference in which he announced formation of an exploratory committee, the leader of the Harlem-based National Action Network has played coy about whether he actually is going to run. Is he using the novel medium of a book to make his big announcement?
When I reached him by telephone, he answered that question with an absolute maybe.
"I am not officially declared as a candidate," he said, "but I am saying that I clearly want to run if we can put the campaign together."
Oh. But, I persisted. The book says "seeking." That sounds like "running" to me. "Are you making news here or not?" I asked "Are you saying something substantially different from what you have said before?"
Yes, he insisted. Before, he was only "exploring," he said. Now he is actively "seeking."
"As I travel, I am meeting with people to determine that we have the organization that we will need to get on the ballot in all 50 states," Sharpton said. "And, once we are convinced that the fundraising is at least achievable, then I am making the declaration."
With obfuscation like that, the man is unquestionably well suited for politics.
But he doesn't want to announce too soon. For one thing, a lot of very strict and complex election campaign laws kick in as soon as you officially announce your candidacy.
For another, if you announce too soon, you run the risk of people getting tired of you. Rev. Al does not have to worry about that. Millions of Americans already are tired of him. He has, as political observers like to say, "baggage," particularly some episodes in which he fanned the flames of racial tension.
In the best known, he championed Tawana Brawley in 1987 after she claimed she was raped by a group of white men, including a prosecutor. A grand jury later decided she made up the story and Sharpton lost a defamation suit. In his book he maintains that he did nothing wrong but believe a 15-year-old girl who never recanted her story.
"Every politician has baggage," he told me, shrugging off the problem. "It is just that some make enough money to have a bellhop carry their baggage. I have to carry my own!"
Good one. Whatever else you may say about Sharpton, he is fun to cover. Talk to him for two minutes and you've got your Quote-of-the-Day.
But, while it is easy to (a) chuckle or (b) groan at Sharpton, he is making himself difficult for Democrats to ignore.
In a recent Zogby Poll, Sharpton tied for third place at about 5 percent behind Al Gore and Sen. Joseph Lieberman among a dozen potential Democratic candidates.
And, for what it's worth, the poll was held after HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel aired a bizarre 1983 tape, which caught Rev. Al in a failed drug sting. He is more embarrassed by the audacious cowboy hat that the tape shows him wearing, he says, than he is embarrassed by the sting itself -- the tape shows him refusing to take the bait.
Actually, episodes like that, in which the big powers appear to be out to get him, can only enhance Sharpton's appeal in places where voters feel the system is out to get them, too.
He is only encouraged, he notes, when all of the most-talked-about potential Democratic presidential candidates in Congress voted with Bush in his crucial Iraq war powers resolution. The more the other candidates move to the right, Sharpton says, the more room they leave for him with the party's base.
Indeed, as much as some are turned off by Sharpton's style, others are energized by his populist appeal. Many see him as a stern voice who speaks out for them when no one else will.
Despite his baggage, Sharpton gathered enough votes in his losing campaigns for the Senate in 1992 and 1994 and for mayor in 1997 that he has become an important "man to see" for anyone who seeks Democratic votes in New York City.
As a presidential candidate, he could fill the role occupied by previous left-progressives like Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, by Jerry Brown in 1992 and by Ralph Nader in 2000. For his base, Sharpton's value is like the old joke about the near-sighted javelin thrower: He probably won't win, but he keeps the crowd alert.
In that sense, Democratic Party leaders would be happy to have the votes that Sharpton could bring, unless he makes the rest of the crowd run for the exits.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.
10/15/02: A beauty and the bullies
10/08/02: Time to start 'fingerprinting' bullets
10/08/02: Poet laureate hater fell for Internet hoax
10/04/02: Keeping it real, despite howls from black 'leaders'
10/01/02: Revisiting the 'Jogger' horror
09/27/02: Sometimes freedom is a necessary nuisance
09/13/02: Foil Fidel with free trade
09/10/02: Measuring the myth of 'super weed'
09/06/02: A year later: A reality-check
09/03/02: Make better choices before some jury somewhere does
08/20/02: Bid farewell to the Cigarette Century
08/16/02: Rights matter, even in circus trials
08/09/02: Jousting with Rumsfeld's fog of wit
08/06/02: Covert action is cool again
08/01/02: Powell's premature obituaries
07/30/02: A common sense tip on internal snooping
07/18/02: Jacko plays race card badly
07/12/02: Last flight for a pioneer airman
07/08/02: Dems will miss Watts, too
06/28/02: 'Supreme Court reads polls, too
06/25/02: 'The Body' bites, then bows out
06/21/02: Punishment first, then the crime?
06/18/02: Reporting still risky for Haiti's press
06/14/02: Bush's security plan leaves large gaps
06/04/02: Fix FBI's culture gap first
05/28/02: Fidel's new apartheid for tourists
05/21/02: Now McKinney's lunacy sounds like the Democratic Party line
05/19/02: A paradox of historical proportions
05/14/02: 'Murphy Brown' revisited in age of Ozzy
05/10/02: America looks like a model of tolerance and inclusion
05/07/02: Forget it, Bill, you're no Oprah
04/26/02: Mapping out ethnic and racial change
04/23/02: A game of another color
04/19/02: It's high time to open up pot-law debate
04/11/02: 'Osbourne' family values rock, aging Ozzy quakes
03/22/02: Zimbabwe election leaves world sleepless
03/19/02: A slur? Where is thy sting?
03/15/02: A Pearl of wisdom for reporter's unborn son
03/12/02: Army race and gender policies on trial
03/08/02: A short list of losers to be left behind
03/05/02: Revenge of the 'mediasaurus'
02/26/02: Jihads aren't just for Muslims
02/26/02: It's hard to be 'objective' during wartime
02/19/02: Hollywood's new villain: Your HMO
02/12/02: Father of 'Manchild' leaves lasting message
02/08/02: $nookering the reparations crowd
01/31/02: Prisoners of a War of Words
01/29/02: One more Enron woe: Al Sharpton & company
01/25/02: Searching for slaves in bin Laden's attic
01/22/02: Andrew Young's newest 'friend'
01/08/02: Hard-earned lessons from 9-11
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?
12/14/01: The "White Negro" Taliban?
12/07/01: Jackson's turn to gloat
11/27/01: Friendly warning from a lover of liberty
11/21/01: The face of hunger is changing
11/15/01: Our troubled sense of trust
11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
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