The Rev. Al Sharpton, another minister without church portfolio, is forming an exploratory committee to run for president. Sharpton is following in the footsteps of his example and mentor, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has been politically damaged and sidelined due to new, uh, parental responsibilities.
Sharpton could decide the 2004 presidential election, not for himself, but for President George W. Bush. He's made two unsuccessful runs for political office for mayor of New York City and for the Senate seat now occupied by Hillary Rodham Clinton. But winning the White House which might have to undergo a name change, if not a paint job should Sharpton win isn't what his candidacy would be about. Like Jackson, Sharpton wants to pull the Democratic Party back to its leftist roots. He would use black votes he wins as bargaining chips for his issues and for himself. Republicans would run campaign commercials quoting Sharpton and demand that Democrats disassociate themselves from Sharpton and his remarks. Either way, Democrats would be politically damned.
Sharpton could be the next Willie Horton, symbolizing what many people dislike most about liberals. From the phony Tawana Brawley rape case in the '80s to his constant race-baiting, Sharpton will make an inviting political target.
Democrats will have the same trouble with Sharpton they had with Jackson. Both men are proven vote-getters. They also have proven they can drive away swing voters, which both parties need. In last year's campaign, vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman had to tiptoe around Louis Farrakhan, giving the Nation of Islam leader credibility instead of denouncing him as an anti-Semite and black supremacist. Democratic candidates also trekked up to Harlem to meet with Sharpton.
Sharpton would not just bring baggage to a presidential campaign. He would bring an entire baggage car. He once called a white businessman an "interloper" for opening a clothing store in Harlem. One of Sharpton's supporters said of the owner, "We're going to see that this cracker suffers." Days later, when the man's store was set on fire, killing seven employees and a black man police said had set the blaze, Sharpton denied any responsibility for the act.
Columnist Clarence Page made a good point during last year's campaign. He wrote, "When principled leaders fail to rise, no one should be surprised that imperfect leaders fill the gap." Most African-Americans are not being set-upon by police but they are being set-upon by the likes of Sharpton, who make them believe that racism and "police brutality" are the biggest threats to their community. If racism and police brutality ended tomorrow, the lot of African-Americans would be little improved. That's because their primary problems have less to do with race and victimization than they do with the huge out-of-wedlock birthrate and the lack of positive father figures in the home. But you can't get TV time and headlines putting black families back together. When the lust for political power comes up against an opportunity to positively change things, the phony and fake will go for the political power every time.
Will successful and responsible black leaders emerge to isolate Sharpton and lead African-Americans in a better direction? It isn't likely if they haven't shown up by now. Most successful blacks are too busy doing the things that brought them success to play the blame game. They aren't singing about overcoming; they're just overcoming. They should be the example for others, including people of other races, to follow. Stories of how other groups overcame used to inspire imitators. Now, substantial numbers of the aggrieved and "oppressed" wallow in their grievances and oppression rather than climb the ladder out of the hole. The Rev. Al Sharpton is their Pied Piper.
Republicans should rejoice over prospects of a Sharpton presidential candidacy. Democrats should be sweating blood. Republicans can start chanting, "Run, Al, run," and if he does, sing, "Happy Days are Here Again." Not even White House political strategist Karl Rove could have come up with a better scenario.
Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.