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Al Sharpton: Power Dem
From the March 20, 2000, issue of NR.

By Jay Nordlinger


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An amazing thing has happened in New York, and in Democratic politics: Al Sharpton has become King. He is Mr. Big, The Man to See, the straw that stirs the drink. Nothing has made that clearer than the prelude to the New York primary, and the budding New York Senate race. They come in a steady parade to him, even if they show flutters of reluctance: Bill Bradley, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton. Everyone refers to this as “kissing his ring”; at times, Democrats seem willing to kiss even more. Not long ago, he was a demagogue, a race-baiter, a menace — and acknowledged as such, by all but a fringe. Day and night, he worked to make an always difficult city — New York — even more difficult, more tense. Now, however, he practically rules. He is a kind of Establishment. His record — as galling as any in our politics — is overlooked, excused, or shrugged off. It is to him that every (Democratic) knee must bow.

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And another amazing thing: no penalty. Democratic bigs seem to pay no penalty whatever for their embrace of Sharpton. George W. Bush is worse off for Bob Jones University.

The Kiss of Respect
Sharpton — or “The Rev,” as he is known among his fans — is nothing if not mindful of his status; he must know, therefore, that his two visits to the White House last year were milestones for him. One visit was for a conference on police brutality; the other was for a ceremony honoring the New York Yankees (“I don’t think Al has ever been to a Yankee game in his life,” confided a friend of his to an interviewer). The more Mrs. Clinton becomes a New Yorker, and a New York politician, the friendlier the White House is to Sharpton. Last November, when the First Lady was dithering about whether to run at all, Sharpton announced that his patience was “running thin”; he wondered whether Mrs. Clinton was “too scared and too intimidated and too much of a lackey to challenge” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, long a Sharpton foe. In due course, Mrs. Clinton declared her candidacy, and made the pilgrimage to Sharpton headquarters.

Bill Bradley needed no prodding. A self-styled Great White Father of black America, he was always eager for Sharpton’s blessing, meeting with him early. He was pleased to intone Sharpton’s threat-laden slogan, “No justice, no peace.” He courted The Rev with breathtaking, unembarrassed ardor. After their get-together in August, Sharpton said to the press, “Mr. Bradley had a very public meeting, answered all of the questions. I think he was very impressive.” Outside of Sharpton’s offices, however, not everything was harmony. Bill Perkins, a black city councilman, was leaving the meeting when he was confronted by a mob, supportive chiefly of the hate-spewing Khalid Abdul Muhammad, a Sharpton ally. They hurled charges of “Uncle Tom!” and warned that (relatively) temperate politicians like Perkins should “be killed.” Such is the atmosphere you enter when you consort with Sharpton, even in his present “mainstream” mode. Bradley is not known to have expressed a word of concern. Out in Iowa, he did say, “I don’t agree with Al Sharpton on everything, but I think he has to be given respect.” Of course.

Slowest of all to pay homage to Sharpton — but, nevertheless, in time — was Al Gore. Shortly after Mrs. Clinton’s visit, Sharpton let it be known that he would not wait for the vice president indefinitely. It would be “strange,” he said, if Gore declined to “show respect for the community” (in Sharpton’s mind, he and “the community” are one). Within a couple of weeks, Gore did indeed huddle with Sharpton, in the Upper East Side home of Karenna Gore Schiff, his daughter. His staff initially denied that Sharpton was with the Gores, only later admitting the truth. Similarly, Gore managed not to be photographed with The Rev — an example, we may assume, of the famous Gore caution.

Then came the big debate, staged at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Sharpton had demanded it. When the Gore camp appeared to hesitate, he snapped, “Clearly, we need a response by the end of the week.” Gore, it goes without saying, was delighted to oblige Sharpton. The Man had called, and both Democratic candidates came running. It was a high moment in Sharpton’s dizzying career.

New York, you could argue, is in the midst of a broad Sharpton Moment. He is not only at the center of Democratic politics, but key to the very life of the city — orchestrating protests against the police, turning the temperature up or down on racial antagonism, as he wishes, and generally acting like the mayor of black New York. For several years now, there has been a debate over whether there is a “New Sharpton” — a more moderate, less hateful, more constructive one. He is said by his liberal defenders — and occasionally by himself — to have “grown” (a word usually applied to conservative politicians who migrate left). Bill Bradley, for one, has endorsed this view. Certainly, Sharpton gives appearances of having gone respectable. There he is with Chris Matthews on Hardball, talking — and not unreasonably — about “the Moynihan wing” and “the Sharpton wing” of the New York Democratic party. And there he is with Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America, sitting next to former mayor David Dinkins. Weird times, these: Dinkins now seems like Sharpton’s mascot.

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COMMENTS   13

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   07/22/11 07:17

"...they do nothing to scandalize those top Democrats who have bent to Sharpton’s feet, raising him higher than ever."
... or those top Republicans like Newt who do the same thing.

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   07/22/11 07:22

This is excellent. Thank you for writing this (at last). It was necessary that someone do so and you've done a great job. Sharpton's rise has been the most deplorable and, for me, unexpected thing ever. Years ago, in court (I'm a lawyer), I met Conrad Lynn, a famous civil rights attorney who told me how appalling he found Sharpton, Maddox and Mason, and his profound embarrassment and anger at their actions in connection with Tawana Brawley. I never thought that any politician's contact with Al Sharpton would be anything less than a disqualifying mark against them. And now this. What hath God wrought? I think the Democratic party should be redesignated as the P.O.S. (Party of Sharpton) in the same way as the Republicans are the G.O.P.

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   07/22/11 09:37

"I think the Democratic party should be redesignated as the P.O.S. (Party of Sharpton)"

I'm thinking that Public Opinion Strategies might take umbrage at your suggestion there. :-)

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Roland Newark
   07/22/11 09:08
Rocco
   07/22/11 09:14

Sharpton, and MSNBC deserve each other.

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NYC is done
   07/22/11 09:27

Blame his rise on the years of constant buildup from the New York Post and New York Daily News.

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   07/22/11 10:36

In my 2nd year at law school in NYC, the school invited Sharpton to speak to the students (Spring '98). This was in the early days of his "rehabilitation" efforts, just after the Abner Louima case.

That was the case where the NYPD was accused by Sharpton of knocking all of Louima's teeth out with a billy club, and exclaiming, "It's GIULIANI TIME!" Abner's teeth -- DENTURES -- were in a cup of water.

I stayed away from the event, confident that I would have been arrested for verbally confronting him and the charlatans who had invited him.

Long Live Freddie's Music Store, right Al? By the way, "Rev", where again is your parish? In Crown Heights, Brooklyn?

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   07/22/11 12:35

Over the last few years Al Sharpton could often be seen yukking it up with Sean Hannity and others on Hannity's shows on FOX. I think he did a lot to help rehabilitate this lowlife.

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JoanP
   07/22/11 12:37

Sharpton's rise and the media's appallingly short memory when it comes to everything he has done is something I have never been able to fathom. I guess an expensive suit and some smooth schmoozing goes a long way.

Sharpton is a symbol of liberalism's moral squalor.

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Perplexed
   07/22/11 16:18

'Metamorphosis'? Looks like the same old race-baiter to me.

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   07/22/11 16:31

Now MSNBC can honestly claim they are not an all white race baiting team.

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JB in MS
   07/24/11 00:53

Great biographical of a charlatan and a race-baiter, a person for whom the label 'racist' is accurate rather than just another liberal throwaway tag line.

One thing you failed to mention, however, was his attacks on the Duke lacrosse players in what turned out to be another phony race/rape crime. I don't recall exctly what he said when he issued his apology to the wrongfully-accused players after his baseless persecution of them. What was it again...oh yeah! NOTHING!

He's a fraud, and a piece of human garbage, and that has nothing to do with his race, but strictly with his character and morals - or lack thereof.

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pdevlin
   07/27/11 10:44

I hope Rev. Sharpton will address the issue of hate crimes as they are manifesting themselves in the recent flash mob attacks, where crowds of blacks attack whites and destroy white owned businesses. This has happened in Philly, Chicago, New York, and Akron to name a few locales.

I know he has strong feelings about this topic, so I hope he will speak up about it on his programme.

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