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Al Sharpton, Candidate
by Brian S. Wise
01 September 2002

Examining the troublesome intellect, and doomed presidential campaign, of Al Sharpton.



Last Sunday, your author turned on Meet the Press, suspecting nothing, and there was Al Sharpton. Immediately I suffered involuntary facial ticks; how this man warranted an extended segment with Tim Russert was such a mystery, a rare phone call was made for guidance, to St. Louis, Missouri. “Hey,” I began when the line was answered, “Is Al Sharpton still a jackass?” Came the reply, “As far as I know.” Even more puzzlement crept in. “So what’s he doing on Meet the Press right now?” Pause. “Being himself?” Exactly.

You only need to know three things about Al Sharpton: for one thing, he’s not smart; whatever comes across as intelligence looks more like conditioned responses to outside stimuli, e.g. anyone having the nerve to suggest a Republican has ever had a good idea, or a Democrat a bad one. For another thing, there doesn’t appear to be a prominent liberal (or worse) who, according to Sharpton, has ever said anything negative in context, so long as it’s unflattering to their intelligence or character. Last, Sharpton seems to believe there doesn’t exist a societal problem, no matter how big or small, that cannot be solved by a larger, more intrusive federal government.

To the first point: Al Sharpton is either a fool or grossly uninformed, neither bodes well for a man hoping to win the Democratic nomination in 2004. The first point of contention came within one minute of the interview’s beginning: Russert asks, “Would you repeal the Bush tax cut?” Sharpton replies, “Absolutely. I think that in a time where we have seen some very, very, very strong problems in the economy and in the personal lives of people – if I had to choose, for example, between giving a tax break to billionaires or having grandmothers afford their prescription drugs, I would choose Grandma every time.”

Of course he would, most of us would. But other than last summer’s rebate checks, which we are to assume Sharpton received and spent, the vast majority of the Bush tax cuts were back loaded to the later part of this decade. What’s more, it looks more and more likely that, by the time those cuts kick in, federal government will already be subsidizing medications for the elderly; so why can’t we have both tax cuts for billionaires and medicine for Grandma? Better still, who can’t we have a tax cut for everyone who files a federal return and all the thyroid pills Grandma can possibly stand?

Because … just because. Ideologically, tax cuts make the Left uncomfortable – they mean government will be forced to do with less, no matter the benefit to the taxpayer … maybe even Grandma. The flaw comes in the assumption that all Grandma’s problems come from the difficulty in obtaining certain medications (where that difficulty exists; not in all cases, to be sure). Could it be that every time Grandma takes money out of her retirement savings, she is taxed 40 percent (like my grandmother), which leads to some problem affording other things? No, and the point is made again, “I said I wouldn’t give a tax break in the middle of this kind of economy.” Okay; whether or not such a thing is wise can be debated (of course it is), but who can say what the economy will be like five years from now, when the substantive cuts begin? How can we know today can be withstood tomorrow?

Let’s suppose that, in this regard, Sharpton just wasn’t aware of any of this and ignorant of the logic. A short time later, a video of Louis Farrakhan is played, in which he suggests: “President Bush does intend to go into Iraq. He’s made you believe that Saddam Hussein is a terrible man. He’s no more terrible than Bush [wild applause]. He’s no more terrible than Bush’s father [wild applause]. He’s no more terrible than Clinton [significantly lesser, guarded applause]. Because all of them do things in the name of their government that if the truth were made known, there would be a Nuremberg trial for American presidents.” (Really?! And if these offenses were made known, perhaps … Farrakhan would know they exist, which he doesn’t.) The video ends and Sharpton is asked, “Do you believe that Saddam is no more terrible than President Bush and former Presidents Clinton and Bush?” Here begins Russert’s only substantive challenge of Sharpton.

“Well, again, I think that we are trying to see exactly what Mr. Hussein is doing,” he begins. (Were that we could, but the United Nations weapons inspectors were removed in 1998, and his party did nothing to countermand that removal.) “I think a far more appropriate discussion for an American presidential candidate, potential or announced, is what threat it raises to America. I don’t know the context of the statement you played.” (This goes to the second part of my complaint, the contextual argument.) “There,” says Russert, “that’s the full context. Minister Louis Farrakhan stood up and said, ‘Saddam Hussein is no more terrible than President Bush, former President Clinton and former President Bush.’ Do you agree with that?”

“Well, again, I do not know the context, if he was talking about parts of the – I don’t know what he’s talking about. I know that Mr. Hussein, as the head of Iraq – we are in dire need of knowing what is going on in Iraq, what weapons are possessed.” Russert, a moment later: “All right. Do you believe that Saddam Hussein is no more terrible that President Bush?” Sharpton: “I, again, would not make that judgment. I think that President Bush and others are wrong in certain areas. Clearly, I do not think Saddam Hussein is a friend to this country [well!] or a friend to what is going on in the world today. But again, I – value judgment – you can ask me about Minister Farrakhan, you can ask me about Reverend Billy Graham. I think Reverend Billy Graham, who I’ve met and admired as an evangelist, made some of the most anti-Semitic, hateful statements ever recorded on the White House. Am I going to sit here and say that I denounce Reverend Billy Graham? I denounce some of the things I’ve heard. So, again, I don’t want to be limited to every black leader. … If I run, I’ll be running for president of the United States, not president of black America.” “Do you believe there should be a Nuremberg trial for American presidents?”

“I think that there ought to be an accountability for all American presidents. And whether that is in the form of a Nuremberg trial is certainly a more technical legal issue.”

Goddammit Sharpton, stop! The only worse than the dumbest thing ever said is the imbecile who stands in stark support of the statement itself. Al Sharpton cannot make a value judgment as to whether or not President Bush (of whom this columnist has stood in opposition for most of his presidency) is worse than Saddam Hussein, and he cannot with clear conscience decide whether or not Louis Farrakhan was correct in suggesting a Nuremberg trial is necessary for American presidents, but he does know – and can state with some conviction – that Billy Graham said “some of the most anti-Semitic, hateful statements ever recorded in the White House.”

This goes to the second part of my argument, that of context. Now granted, in the immediate aftermath of the Tragedies (and here and there since), a lot of notable Catholics said a lot of very dumb things, but how do we not know that the anti-Semitic remarks Sharpton eludes to here are not taken out of context? We cannot possibly know that, and Russert fails to challenge him on the point, for whatever reason. The oddity is that the reality of Graham’s anti-Semitic statements is to be taken for granted without corroboration, while Farrakhan’s plain suggestion, on video, that American presidents be subject to Nuremberg trials is … out of context.

The pattern repeats itself later, when Tawana Brawley is discussed. Begins Russert, “The biggest controversy you’ve probably been involved in was … Tawana Brawley’s case. [Some lines from a column from Bob Herbert are read, outlining the case briefly as well as Sharpton’s involvement.] And you pain $87,000 in defamation charges to Steven Pagonis [sic], the district attorney who was charged. You lost that case. Will you apologize for promoting the case of Tawana Brawley, which divided New York terribly?” “Well, first of all, I think that the context of your question needs to be clear.” Only Al Sharpton and the mentally retarded missed the context of that question. “Tawana Brawley told her story many months before I got involved – and many others got involved, Bill Cosby, and many others, who have never refuted the story. I don’t refute it now [emphasis mine]. I believe, as the jury in the case you talked about, something happened to Tawana Brawley. To act as if all of us jumped on a girl’s case is to act like the other cases all over the country we’ve supported, we just jumped on. There is a problem in this country, that a lot of people don’t believe women, a lot of people don’t believe young women.” Shortly thereafter, “You believe Tawana Brawley was raped by a white gang?”

“I believe something happened to her.”

“By a white gang?”

“She made statements of what happened to her. See, the other problem with this is the same jury said these were her statements. There was no conspiracy here. And again I think one of the things we’ve got to start doing in America, particularly in the media, is start telling the real story.”

Here Sharpton makes a fair point. Media had quite the time getting around to the real story, which was that Tawana Brawley, at 15, was having a little more adult fun than a girl her age should be having and, instead of going home to face her parents, wrote racial slurs on her own body, smeared feces on her face and crawled into a garbage heap. Her explanation was that she had been abducted and raped by six white men. Sharpton, Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason jumped into the fray and not only accused Pagones of taking part in the rape and desecration of Brawley but in the murder of Harry Crist, who had killed himself after being attached to the case by Sharpton and the boys. (So now, not only is Sharpton continuing to propagate the Brawley lie, he also has Crist’s blood on his hands, though he clearly thinks nothing of it.) Sharpton, Maddox and Mason were eventually, more than a decade after the fact, found guilty of 15 counts of defamation, for which Sharpton ended up paying Pagones $87,000, as Russert mentioned. Moreover, when Sharpton learned the accusations were a lie, he said nothing of it; “The three so-called advisors were never interested in what really happened. The spotlight beckoned, and not one of them had the strength of character to resist,” explained Bob Herbert in the New York Times, of all papers. (I would like to introduce Al Sharpton to John McCain; they would at least have this in common.)

The problem is the context of Russert’s question – “Will you now apologize for promoting the case of Tawana Brawley, which divided New York so terribly?” – not that Sharpton himself lied, race baited and would rather languish in ignorance than know the exact truth, of not what only Brawley is, but what he is for supporting her.

Now to the third and final point: It’s certainly no surprise to see a liberal on television espousing the inherent benefits of federal government as a cure-all. But here it bares examination, for the reason it always bares examination when the liberal in question hopes to run for office.

No one will be shocked to learn Sharpton would like to see every firearm licensed and registered; and hardly anyone will be shocked to know he supports gay marriage, “I feel people have the right to choose and I would support that no matter what the lifestyle. … I would support it. Whatever the lifestyle, people should have the right to choose their own life.”

Lifestyle choice, of course, is not to include where and how the children of gay and straight couples are educated. “I do not support vouchers for anyone. … I think government’s role is to try and educate all children because to select some, whether it’s under a voucher system or any other system, means that you are admittedly eliminating others. I don’t think it’s the role of government to be in the elimination business.” Obviously. If voucher systems were mandated to include only those schools where union teachers are employed, (e.g. if one could switch from a failing public school to a better public school in the same district) wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume Leftist opposition would evaporate?

The quiet irony is that, in allowing public schools to remain as they are presently, children are already being left out … of learning, by government. Report after report after report has suggested again and again American children simply aren’t learning, despite the best efforts (?) of public school systems across the nation. But for the Left it’s more about protecting union jobs and less about education: what cannot ever be compromised is the relative sanctity of the union lead public school system, even if it just so happens they are being consistently outperformed by private and religious schools.

Russert: “Two out of every three children born in the black community are born out of wedlock. Why?”

“I think the answer … is that we must build an economy and a social order that is conducive to family building and people being able to establish a livelihood to take care of their families. Again, there are other questions involved, from family breakup, to history, to morality [what?!], many issues. But I think it’s government’s role – if I were to run for president – government’s role is to give an equal opportunity to every home and to every household head that they can provide for their family and provide for their children. And I think government has a responsibility to do that first before we deal with the morality or the history.”

How is government supposed to go about establishing these things for the black community? No answer is offered, though we have established: 1) taxes cannot be lowered, as to allow taxpayers to keep more of their own money, thus improving their station in life; 2) children cannot be pulled from failing public schools and enrolled into better, perhaps private, schools, which could improve their base of knowledge and therefore their ultimate stations in life.

Sharpton does think enough to say, “I don’t make excuses for people not bearing the responsibility of their family. I don’t make excuses for the misogyny and violence I hear in our records and in our – what’s going on in the music industry. … So I don’t make excuses for people walking away for their responsibility, but I think the government must also give them an opportunity to exercise being responsible.” So even when he finally says something smart, it should be understood the ultimate blame doesn’t at all lie in the black community, but within government, who simply refuses to step in and forcefully defeat a prevailing culture that couldn’t care less if children are born into either wedlock or stable families, in general. It’s a generalization one hates to make, but how else are we to consider the fact blacks make up 13 percent of the American population, with an illegitimacy rate of 70 percent? Government cannot force birth control onto and into the bodies of the black community.

Al Sharpton running for the presidency is a gift from God for the Republican party; were that it could, the GOP would be willing to allow him the Democratic nomination outright, saving him the trouble and expense of a campaign. One can say whatever he wants about George W. Bush, but only very rarely in the history of American politics has one no-talent nitwit been lent such serious consideration as Al Sharpton. (Yes, even for American politics.) He would do best to leave politics and stay away, but thankfully for Republicans and all serious Democrats, he cannot help himself but to seek this sort of attention.

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