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December 03, 2003, 8:40 a.m.
The dumbing down of presidential candidates is complete.
“If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house."
Those were the immortal words of the Rev. Al Sharpton during the Crown Heights crisis in New York City in 1991. A car driven by a Hasidic Jew had run over a black child in the Brooklyn neighborhood, prompting black-Jewish tensions that eventually spilled over into antisemitic riots. Sharpton's contribution to civic peace was statements like the above, together with such classic anti-Jewish smears as: "Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights."
Oh, the statesmanship. This is the man who stands with eight other presidential candidates every two weeks or so to opine to a national audience about the future of the republic. With Sharpton, the dumbing down of presidential candidates is complete. In 1992, Pat Buchanan ran for president after having a cable-TV show. In 2000, Alan Keyes did Buchanan one better — he ran for president to get a cable TV show (it appeared briefly on MSNBC). Sharpton is running on the Keyes model, with his scheduled Saturday Night Live guest-hosting gig this weekend showing some results.
Fringe candidates can have their place. Ralph Nader added something to the 2000 election. But Sharpton has no memorable policy proposals, no distinctive ideological position, nothing but himself and his resume.
He wants to be remembered as the guy with the funny lines rather than a racial provocateur who smeared an innocent man during the Tawana Brawley hoax and built his New York notoriety on race hatred. "We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business," Sharpton said in a 1995 Harlem controversy over a Jewish storeowner who had a conflict with a black rival neighbor. A protester in that case eventually shot his way through the store and burned the place down, killing eight people.
The other Sharpton priority is supplanting Jesse Jackson. Sharpton threw his sharpest elbow of the campaign after it was reported that Jesse Jackson's son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., planned to endorse Howard Dean. Sharpton promptly, and ridiculously, denounced Dean for his "anti-black agenda." Why does Sharpton hate Jackson? The same reason Ford hates Chrysler. He's the competition.
Sharpton and Jackson are dueling over who will be the nation's best-paid race hustler, a lucrative occupation. For example: According to the Wall Street Journal, the owners of the Word Network, which is devoted to running black church services, pay Sharpton and Jackson roughly $10,000 per protest to demonstrate at the headquarters of cable operators that don't yet carry Word. A Sharpton-led protest in March 2002 prompted a St. Louis operator to begin carrying the cable network.
The cynicism of the Sharpton campaign is an open book. Typically, presidential candidates stay in cheap accommodations. Sharpton's campaign, in contrast, is an excuse to live high. According to the New York Post, Sharpton has stayed at the nation's swankest hotels, including a visit at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles, which soaked up five percent of the cash Sharpton had raised in the third-quarter fundraising period. When appearing at black churches, Sharpton collects a "love offering" — that goes directly into his own pocket.
Sharpton counts on other candidates and the moderators at the debates being too timid to challenge him on his checkered past and questionable practices, so he can pass himself as respectable. In an exception, Tom Brokaw recently asked Sharpton if he would apologize for his role in the Brawley case. Sharpton had a defamation judgment against him in the case, but he stood by his smear and responded with a fusillade of obfuscation that eventually wore Brokaw down.
Sharpton will no doubt win his own private presidential race. He will emerge from this campaign as the nation's foremost "civil-rights leader." Owned by Sharpton, however, that title is not worth having.
— Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.
(c)2003 King Features Syndicate
More on Sharpton.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Democrats Embrace 'Impresario of Hatred'
BY FRED SIEGEL
Monday, October 20, 2003 12:00 p.m. EDT
(Editor's note: This article appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 29, 2000.)
George W. Bush has taken a lot of heat, and deservedly so, for tolerating intolerance. On Sunday, stung by criticism of his visit to South Carolina's Bob Jones University, Mr. Bush sent a letter to New York's Cardinal John O'Connor in which the Texas governor apologized for having failed to distance himself from the university's racially discriminatory and anti-Catholic policies. Yesterday John McCain denounced two Bush backers, the Rev. Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, as "agents of intolerance." And Mr. McCain himself has come under fire for referring to his Vietnamese captors as "gooks" and for refusing to take a position on the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina capitol.
So when will the press ask Bill Bradley and Al Gore to disavow Democratic extremists? Both men have been cozying up to the Rev. Al Sharpton, the man at the center of some of New York's ugliest racial incidents.
When Mr. Gore showed up to debate Mr. Bradley at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater on 125th Street last week, he came because Mr. Sharpton had threatened him with protests. Mr. Gore could have capitalized on the opportunity to repudiate a racial demagogue, the way Bill Clinton did in 1992 when he denounced the rap singer Sister Souljah at a meeting of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition.
Instead, Mr. Gore, who has quite rightly criticized Mr. Bush for kowtowing to white racism in South Carolina, decided to capitulate to black racism in New York. After a private meeting with Mr. Sharpton at the apartment of Mr. Gore's daughter, Karenna, the vice president agreed to participate in the Sharpton-organized debate. With the vice president ahead of the fading Mr. Bradley by a whopping 25 percentage points in New York polls, it would have taken only minimal courage to stand up to Mr. Sharpton's intimidation. Yet he caved in to the man Richard Brookhiser aptly describes as "an impresario of hatreds."
The irony for Mr. Gore is that he could appeal to inner-city blacks by running as a "new Democrat." Harlem would have been an ideal venue to do so. Devastated by the violence of the 1960s and '70s, largely bypassed by the boom of the 1980s, Harlem is now undergoing what been described as its second renaissance, thanks to the success of both Mr. Clinton's economic policies and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's anticrime efforts. Employers and middle-class professionals are moving into Harlem as never before. Capitalism, shut out of Harlem first by white racism and then by crime and political patronage, has begun to work its magic. If Mr. Gore continues to ignore this good news and to embrace Mr. Sharpton's politics of division, he will only help Mr. Bush or Mr. McCain.
The press has been appropriately vigilant in examining Mr. Bush's willingness to pander to Southern white identity politics. It would have taken no great effort for the reporters covering the Apollo debate to have walked across 125th Street from the theater to visit Freddy's Fashion Mart, where in 1995 eight people died in a murderous rampage inspired by Mr. Sharpton.
Mr. Sharpton is best-known for the Tawana Brawley hoax, in which he insisted that a 15-year-old black girl had been abducted and raped by a band of white men practicing Irish Republican Army rituals. In fact she had made up the story to protect herself from her violent stepfather.
But at Freddy's, Mr. Sharpton was even more malevolent. He turned a landlord-tenant dispute between the Jewish owner of Freddy's and a black subtenant into a theater of hatred. Picketers from Mr. Sharpton's National Action Network, sometimes joined by "the Rev." himself, marched daily outside the store, screaming about "bloodsucking Jews" and "Jew bastards" and threatening to burn the building down.
After weeks of increasingly violent rhetoric, one of the protesters, Roland Smith, took Mr. Sharpton's words about ousting the "white interloper" to heart. He ran into the store shouting, "It's on!" He shot and wounded three whites and a Pakistani, whom he apparently mistook for a Jew. Then he set the fire, which killed five Hispanics, one Guyanese and one African-American--a security guard whom protesters had taunted as a "cracker lover." Smith then fatally shot himself.
Eight people died, and so evidently did the conscience of liberal Democrats. It was Al Sharpton who had the honor of asking the first question at last week's debate, held within hailing distance of the Freddy's massacre.
Messrs. Gore and Bradley both have excoriated Mr. Bush for being "morally blind" to white racism. At the Apollo, they asked white Americans to look deep in their hearts for racial insensitivity. Yet both Mr. Gore and Mr. Bradley are willfully blind to Mr. Sharpton's form of racism. Last August Mr. Bradley spoke before Sharpton's National Action Network. "This is where justice lies," Mr. Bradley said of the organization that had incited the murders at Freddy's. Then he repeated Mr. Sharpton's slogan: "No justice, no peace."
Meanwhile, just outside the headquarters, Khalid Muhammad, a man so extreme he had been expelled from Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, was threatening to kill New York City Councilman Bill Perkins, who is black. Mr. Perkins's crime? He failed to support the Million Youth March, Mr. Muhammad's annual Harlem hate fest. Mr. Sharpton was the only leading black politician to attend the march.
In the wake of last week's verdict in the accidental shooting of Amadou Diallo, Mr. Sharpton has moved into his statesman act. This will be the fifth or sixth time Mr. Sharpton, almost always dubbed a "civil rights leader" by the mainstream press, has repackaged himself to a credulous media.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" a few weeks ago, host Tim Russert did a terrific job of pressing George W. Bush on his pandering to Southern bigotry. Will he do the same with Mr. Gore? Will he ask the vice president about his newfound friendship with Al Sharpton? Will he ask the man whose boss denounced Sister Souljah why he has chosen to tout an endorsement from "gangsta" rapper Wycliff Jean? I doubt it. There are some matters on which you can be just too inquisitive.
Mr. Siegel is author of "The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., L.A. and the Fate of America Big Cities," just out in paperback from Encounter Books.