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Monday, January 13, 2003

Slow Train Comin' : The Times Profiles Al Sharpton

In their on-going series of profiles of Presidential candidates, Al Sharpton's time has come.

First, the flattering photo (thumbnail on left) gets a lot more space in my Dead Tree edition. His prospects:

Aides in competing presidential camps describe Mr. Sharpton's candidacy as little more than a distraction, a quest on the fringe that will ultimately have little bearing on the Democratic presidential competition.

Although the popular term for this is "denial", it is better known as "whistling past the graveyard".

Yet Democrats acquainted with Mr. Sharpton's style and skills suggest that might be a miscalculation. Many Democrats say he could prove to be a constant and potentially unwelcome complication for the other Democrats seeking to challenge President Bush.

For two decades, Mr. Sharpton has shown an unflagging talent for winning attention for himself and his causes. (He was on the NBC News program "Meet the Press" for 17 minutes this morning.) His wit, bluster and bravado make him endlessly quotable, bolstering his reputation as a ruthless political street fighter.

As the only black candidate in a crowded field, Mr. Sharpton said, he would do well in states with large black populations. In particular, he said, he might win the important South Carolina Democratic primary, an assertion that did not seem outlandish to other Democrats, who noted that 40 percent of the South Carolina Democratic electorate is black.

...Mr. Sharpton is putting the others on the spot by raising issues they have avoided: calling for all Confederate flags to be taken down in South Carolina and Mississippi, for example.

He tears into the credentials of his rivals with all the enthusiasm of a Republican, calling for the ouster of Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Party chairman, asserting that his party has abandoned its liberal roots and planning for a prominent speaking role at the Democratic convention in Boston in 2004.

...Referring to the other presidential contenders, Howard Wolfson, the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "These guys have no idea what they are in for."

Well, let's give them an idea:

Al on the DLC: "They never regained the Congress," Mr. Sharpton said. "So how long do you keep going over a new strategy that doesn't work? They are no longer the new Democrats. They are the old Democrats. We had another debacle in 2002, we're going to give them another shot? That's crazy."

Al on John Kerry: Mr. Sharpton noted the paucity of blacks among Massachusetts's elected officials, and said he read a newspaper article the other day about racial profiling there.

"Where is Kerry in his home state?" Mr. Sharpton asked. "If I'm going to be in the debates, he's going to have to talk about that."

Other rivals: Mr. Lieberman, he said, was "an opponent of affirmative action," a characterization that does not square with how Mr. Lieberman describes his own views on the subject. Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri "stood with the president on the war — and was part of the leadership that was absolutely defeated in 2002."

He saved his harshest words for Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, a trial lawyer who, Mr. Edwards's advisers argued, posed the greatest threat to Mr. Sharpton's hopes of a strong showing in the South.

"This guy got rich fighting for the regular guy," Mr. Sharpton said. "So I'm going to ask him at the debates: name one regular guy you fought for that you didn't get paid for. With a Sharpton-less race, he's gotten an easy ride."

His platform: The platform and the party's candidate, he said, should oppose a war in Iraq, the death penalty and the tax cuts pushed by President Bush, and should champion affirmative action. He said he would push for the ouster of Mr. McAuliffe as the party chairman, calling him a "nice man" who had failed.

Pretty mainstream stuff. OK, Bill and Al "supported" the death penalty, but that was then, and we all know political expedience when we see it. Let's get a principled Dem out there. And good luck to you.

UPDATE: Eric Alterman comments on Al. But I am not seeing a reaction otherwise in my quick lefty tour. C'mon, AL will get many more votes than Dean - face reality.

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