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The Candidates: Al Sharpton
In Dissent, Number Ninety-Nine
by Brian S. Wise
4 April 2003

The third in an ongoing series examining those Democrats running for president.

When rumblings of Sharpton for President first began last summer, I managed to quell the laughter long enough to write and release an essay entitled “Al Sharpton: Candidate” in which the reverend was summed up as such: “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.”
           
Anyone can tell you I am a longwinded writer, and so when there come instances where a person or topic is covered as completely as in the above example with so few words, it never hurts to replay the past.  But such coverage proved troublesome once I committed myself to a series of columns examining those Democrats running for president, because I’d said everything there was to say about Al Sharpton.  But as deadline time neared, two things (and a few ancillary points) did finally occur to me.
           
The first was Tawana Brawley, an old bit for Republicanism to bring up, but just as relevant now as it was in 1987 and 1988, due to Sharpton’s handling of the thing, then and now.  At some point during a serious campaign (this is assuming Sharpton 1) wants to run a serious campaign, and 2) is capable of doing so, neither being in evidence thus far), the Tawana Brawley questions must be answered to a certain, wide ranging satisfaction. 
 
Brawley’s contention was that she had been attacked by a white gang, which was said to include police, who after attacking her not only smeared feces on her body, but scrawled upon her person racial epithets.  You will remember that Sharpton (along with two gentlemen named Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason) preceded to ruin the life of one Steven Pagones, accused of the crime and later cleared.  Cleared so extensively, in fact, Sharpton was beaten in court and forced to pay Pagones $87,000 for defamation.  Of course by this point it was much too late to save whatever remained of the man’s life, as the end result very rarely gets the sort of ink the original controversy does, especially if that end result is not convenient enough to serve a liberal and / or black cause.
         
So what does Sharpton have to say for himself?  It is not, to rely upon the popular liberal standard for wrongdoing, saying “I’m sorry.”  Or better yet, “I was wrong.”  On Meet the Press last August, Sharpton offered this: “Tawana Brawley told her story months before I got involved – and many others got involved, Bill Cosby, and many others, who have never refuted the story.  [A good and fair point, but Bill Cosby is not seeking the American presidency.]  I don’t refute it now.  [The emphasis is my own.]  I believe … something happened to Tawana Brawley …. 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.”
    
Tim Russert: “You believe Tawana Brawley was raped by a white gang?”  Sharpton answers, “I believe something happened to her …. 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.”  Well, all right.  What most likely happened was that Brawley was having a little more adult fun than a 15-year-old girl should have been having, and instead of taking her lumps from Mom and Dad concocted a story, never thinking Tawana Brawley would become a national cause.

In any case, Sharpton’s explanation is manifestly dishonest. Those people seriously considering voting for him should know whether or not the man they wish to be president is legitimately this easy to fool, or foolish, or simply so blinded by ideology that the truth does not matter in those instances where the overall point he wants to make is bigger than the truth.

The second was an old column by Mr. William F. Buckley, Jr. in which he recounted a meeting with Eldridge Cleaver (this was January 1970).  “I remember, in the hour I spent with Mr. Cleaver, the one thing I said that made him truly angry.  It was that the Black Panther Party exists primarily for the satisfaction of white people, rather than black people.  The white people like to strut their toleration, and strip themselves of their turtleneck sweaters to reveal their shame.”  As it was with the Black Panthers then, so it is with Al Sharpton now, the only true coincidence being their inevitable irrelevance.


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