From firstname.lastname@example.org Sat Feb 14 13:45:09 2004
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2004 10:34:38 -0600 (CST)
Michael Givel <email@example.com>
Subject: [progchat_action] The Problem with Al Sharpton
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;
Rev. Al Sharpton’s race for the Democratic presidential nomination should be considered a resounding success—for just about everyone except the candidate himself.
By sheer dint of will and force of personality, Sharpton imposed a
vibrant black presence on the party’s primary process. (Had
Sharpton not run, Carol Moseley-Braun would not have been drawn into
the race—ironically, as a counterweight to Sharpton.)
Al was truly large on the stage, a daunting deterrent to the
intrusion of the usual coded racial rhetoric into the Democratic
debates or on the stump: Don’t even think about it, said Al,
without having to move his lips. Sharpton gave voice—at times,
brilliantly—to the core progressive principles of the black
political consensus, causing big-footed white men to step lightly and
in the right general direction.
Sharpton’s candidacy has had a magical effect on the racial chemistry of the Democratic dialogue, in starkest contrast to the White Citizens Council-type language of the GOP. He caused the white candidates to repeatedly demonstrate, through their words and campaign schedules, that they valued black voters.
In that sense, Sharpton’s very success detracted from his
appeal. It was not fear of George Bush that caused four of five black
voters in South Carolina to opt for a white candidate. There was never
any possibility of Sharpton being the nominee, so
was not a consideration. From the beginning, his candidacy promised
African Americans the opportunity to send a message to the Democratic
Party: you’d better pay attention to us. The
frontrunners—and it seems that every white candidate but Dennis
Kucinich has been a frontrunner at some point—had already gotten
the message long before last Tuesday. They embraced black South
Unlike whites, who are the ultimate bloc voters, African Americans
have always responded across racial lines to direct, respectful
appeals for their votes. Sharpton worked a civilizing mojo on the
white contenders this season. (Even Democratic Leadership Council
favorite Sen. Joseph Lieberman - now, thankfully, gone from the
race—dropped his references to the red herring,
Call it nine months of behavior modification therapy, courtesy of
Rev. Al. Thanks to Sharpton, others in the Democratic field struggled
to make themselves worthy of black votes. They were rewarded and are,
Sharpton may or may not appreciate the effect he has had on the
behavior and marketability of his white opponents. However, he has
much more to worry about than whether he gets to speak at the
Democratic convention in Boston. The growing storm over his covert
alliance with rightwing Republicans probably came too late to have any
measurable impact on Tuesday’s elections, but the revelations
are a deathblow to his actual goal: to become the recognized leader of
African Americans. Although the story has been framed in terms of
treachery to the Democratic Party, or as evidence of Sharpton’s
visceral disdain for white
liberals, the tale will resonate
somewhat differently among African Americans. Sharpton comes across as
a hapless stooge of the worst elements of the GOP.
Roger Stone, a millionaire political consultant who began his career
as a 19-year-old Watergate dirty trickster, virtually took over the
Sharpton campaign in the last quarter of 2003, according to reports in
the New York Times (January 25), Salon.com (
A GOP Trickster Rents
Sharpton, February 3) and New York’s Village Voice
Sleeping with the GOP, February 3). Stone and Sharpton were
introduced two years ago by Donald Trump, the celebrity millionaire,
said the Times. Stone brought in Charles Halloran to replace Sharpton
campaign manager Frank Watkins, a longtime advisor to the Jesse
Jacksons, Junior and Senior, who resigned in late September. (In the
Village Voice article, Sharpton says Watkins was fired.) Halloran
previously managed the New York gubernatorial campaign of far-right
billionaire Tom Golisano, on the Independence Party line. He also
managed a mostly white, conservative party’s attempt to unseat
the first black-led government of Bermuda.
ideas and direction, while Mr. Halloran...does the
front-line work, said the Times.
In the attacks on Dr. Dean,
Mr. Stone helped set the tone and direction while Mr. Halloran did the
research. Mr. Halloran came up with Dr. Dean’s hiring record as
governor, for example, aides to Mr. Sharpton said.
Another rightwing purported Sharpton crony, Tucker Carlson of
Crossfire, said Stone and Sharpton are both
motivated by a
disdain for white liberals.
Joe Conason, of Salon.com, contends that Sharpton is a menace to the
Stone certainly serves the Republican party by
sustaining and promoting Sharpton, wrote Conason.
Democratic Party, whose institutions and candidates [Sharpton] has
consistently undermined for many years, is merely a convenient vehicle
for his advancement.
As the primary votes were being counted on Tuesday night, crack
investigative reporter Wayne Barrett’s bomb exploded in the
Village Voice, a devastating document-of-no-return for Al
Sharpton. Barrett and his team describe what amounts to a lock, stock
and barrel takeover of the Sharpton apparatus by Stone and the
half-dozen incongruous top aides who’ve worked for him in
The Republican consultant also appears to have absorbed
Sharpton’s Harlem-based National Action Network (NAN).
combination of the unpaid or underpaid services of Stone, Halloran
[and Stone operatives], Baynard, Archer, et al., together with the NAN
subsidies, paint a picture of a Sharpton operation that is utterly
dependent on his new ally Stone, whose own sponsors are as unclear as
ever, wrote Barrett.
Possibly most disturbing of all is Stone’s role in securing
federal matching funds for the campaign. To qualify for matching
dollars, candidates must first raise $100,000: $5,000 from each of 20
states. Each individual contribution must be of no more than $250. The
combined resources of the Sharpton campaign and NAN (
according to an aide imported by Stone) either could not or would not
assemble the necessary 400-plus contributors grouped by state, to meet
the federal threshold. Stone stepped in, filling the gaps with small
checks from relatives, lobbyist friends and assorted denizens of the
Did Sharpton really need a Republican organization to do that? Was a household name incapable of finding 20 people in 20 states with $250? Or does he instinctively opt for the quick fix or favor?
loaned Sharpton at least $270,000, and the candidate
has made frequent use of Stone’s credit card, according to the
Voice story. NAN funds have been hopelessly commingled with campaign
monies—a potential legal disaster.
The relationship boggles the mind. Roger Stone is the Hard Right storm
trooper whose goons bum-rushed the Miami-Dade elections offices in
2000, shutting down the recount and setting the stage for George
selection. Sharpton claims he and Stone are just
friends. But reporter Wayne Barrett is a veteran dirt-digger who has
taken down a number of New York’s Sleaziest. Sharpton and Stone
seem to have made Barrett’s job easy - indeed, Stone
doesn’t appear anxious to hide the fact that he has captured a
Barrett’s article sketches Rev. Al’s wheeling and dealing in the Byzantine world of New York politics, arrangements in which, as often as not, he has actively or tacitly backed Republicans. So have lots of New York Democrats; the city is a shadowy, immensely corrupt environment—a gray political landscape. Sharpton has long been known as an influence trader. This time, he got eaten—whole.
We have been holding our breath ever since the Reverend announced that he was serious about running for president. Somebody black had to do it. The Democratic Leadership Council had just engineered a sweeping Republican victory in the off-year, congressional elections, and corporate media favored DLC champion Joe Lieberman as frontrunner for the nomination, followed by a mealy-mouthed Sen. John Kerry. It was imperative, we believed, that black voters show their strength within the Democratic Party in an unmistakable way, by coalescing in large numbers around a black candidate in the primaries. Al Sharpton stepped forward.
In our April 24 issue,
What the Black Presidential Candidate Must
Do, we declared, wishfully:
We believe that Al Sharpton is up
to the task, if he maintains a clear vision and personal
discipline. Believing in the possibilities of human growth, if not
redemption, and in the transformative powers of righteous political
movements, we wrote:
Sharpton will show who he is in the course of
the race. Even those of us who think we know him cannot predict what
the National Action Network leader will become as he is tested by the
Now we know.
The Sharpton campaign’s descent into what looked like madness
became apparent shortly after the resignations of Jesse Jackson family
confidant Frank Watkins and South Carolina coordinator Kevin Gray,
September 30. We don’t know what precipitated their exits, but
Roger Stone and his Republicans moved right in. In late October, when
it became clear that Chicago Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. would
endorse Howard Dean, Sharpton went on the attack, shedding the steady,
even statesmanlike persona he had cultivated in the previous months of
campaigning. We described the spectacle in the November 13 story,
Al Sharpton’s Political-Emotional Breakdown:
Sharpton went ballistic, firing off a blistering statement, by far
his harshest criticism of a fellow Democrat of the entire campaign:
Howard Dean’s opposition to affirmative action, his current
support for the death penalty and historic support of the NRA’s
[National Rifle Association’s] agenda amounts to an anti-black
agenda that will not sell in communities of color in this country.
Words on paper do not convey Sharpton’s physical demeanor. He
seemed struck, wounded, desperate for space to breath and bellow, as
Jacksons had cornered him or—worse—cut him
Any so-called African American leader that would endorse
Dean despite his anti-black record is mortgaging the future of our
struggle for civil rights and social justice. Sharpton had never
used such language against any of his fellow performers on the
Democratic Presidential road show. Clearly, this was not about Dean at
We concluded that Sharpton had been
laid low by Jesse
Jacksonophobia—confirming that his real mission was to seize
the mantle of national black leadership. We stand by the
diagnosis. What we did not know was that Roger Stone was methodically
channeling Sharpton’s ambitions and grievances. Like all of
Bush’s men, the dirty Republican trickster aims to suppress the
black vote in the general election. He hoped that Sharpton could be
deployed as a disruptive force in the primary process, thus tamping
down black enthusiasm for the ultimate nominee. Two or three hundred
thousand dollars is a small price to pay for the chance to wreak havoc
among Democrats—and who knows where the money really comes
from. Sharpton, who thinks he’s a player, played right into
Stone’s hands. Now he can be broken at will.
Every story such as this one, in which small men on transient stages
act out petty passions, must be framed by a larger perspective. The
overarching corruption in America is centered in the White House,
where a racist cabal of pirates and thieves prepares to swamp the
coming election in fantastic, unprecedented waves of money. At this
writing, George Bush has $91 million dollars in the bank. According to
Charles Lewis, author of
The Buying of the President,
Bush’s presidential campaign account swells at the rate of
$600,000 per day.
In puny contrast, Al Sharpton finds himself—through his own moral and character flaws—the poor captive of Roger Stone, a rich, cynical, misanthrope who pummels democracy for sport. It is a great irony that the electoral process that Sharpton did so much to enrich, in which his formidable presence deterred white Democrats from reverting to racist type, has resulted in more palatable choices for black voters, but negligible delegate clout for himself.
We must ask why Al Sharpton emerged as a contender for national black leadership via the presidential primaries. The answer is simple, and should be deeply troubling: He was the only one to step forward. Such was also the case in the decades of Sharpton’s rise to prominence in New York. When police brutalized African Americans, Al Sharpton was there. When demonstrations needed to be mounted, Sharpton was on point. When black anger rose, Sharpton rose to the occasion—year, after year, after year.
Whites of all political persuasions denounced Sharpton as an opportunist and publicity seeker—as if they were telling black folks something we didn’t know. But we desperately needed publicity, and an opportunity to be heard. Rev. Al seized the spotlight and shook things up, which was a lot better than nothing.
Somebody black had to do it.
So, who’s stepping forward, now?