Sharpton for futility 

This has been a pretty interesting couple weeks.

The big item flashing on the radar screen is the defection of Republican Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, who bolted to become an independent. What’s more, Jeffords said he plans on throwing his support behind the Democrats. The Republicans had hair-thin control over the Senate, which was split right down the middle with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Vice President Dick Cheney’s tie-breaking vote tilted the balance of power just over the Republican side of the line.

Yeah, well let’s just say that what goes around comes around, and it’s starting to look like what’s coming around to President George W. Bush is nothing short of what he deserves. If you steal something, sooner or later you wind up paying for it one way or another. If things keep going like this, then the kid might have to take the training spurs off his boots.

Not so widely noted yet equally amusing, the Rev. Al Sharpton says he’s considering a run for the presidency — as in president of the United States. No, really. I’m telling the truth. Honest. You can check it out for yourself. I couldn’t make up news that comical if I tried.

Look, it’s not that I want to rag on Rev. Sharpton, although I’ll confess up front I’m not one of his biggest fans. In all fairness, it must be said that Sharpton has been deeply involved in the civil rights struggle for considerably longer than he’s had that hair, and that’s a long time. Matter of fact, some of you may know that Sharpton was a child preacher whose career in the struggle began when he became an apprentice of the late U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Saying all this to say that, there’s more to Sharpton than his hair and the Tawana Brawley screw-up. Say what you will about the man, but I do honestly believe he’s committed to the struggle and has done considerably more — and put more on the line, including his life — than most of those who are criticizing him.

But president?

Acknowledging that Sharpton is nobody’s fool and is very politically astute, I’m going to assume he already knows he doesn’t stand a chance of winning the nomination of the Democratic Party, let alone the final stretch of the big race itself. If Jesse Jackson couldn’t pull it off then it’s pretty safe to say Sharpton’s chances register about a .000001 on the political Richter scale. Anyone who cares to argue this point and who actually believes Sharpton is a serious contender to be the leader of the most powerful nation on earth probably believes in a place called Oz.

Moving right along, if Sharpton is considering a run for the presidency even though he knows he can’t possibly win, that means he’s probably running a message campaign similar to that of Ralph Nader or, reaching back further, comedian-activist Dick Gregory. I don’t want to get into that bit about whether or not these types of campaigns are run by spoilers who do nothing more than take votes away from the “legitimate” candidates because, despite my irritation with Nader’s recent run, I still believe that if you feel like running then have at it. It’s your right as a citizen, provided you can pass through all the necessary hoops, and I think it’s high time we folks had more of a choice. As in a choice between an interesting race that offers some truly wide-ranging points of view and some truly diverse candidates and the highly predictable, highly scripted crap we have to put up with these days.


What exactly would the message be that Rev. Sharpton thinks is so powerful that it could convince a significant number of voters across the country to pay much attention? Granted, he has achieved a fair amount of success in his hometown of New York at transforming himself from a well-known street activist and agitator into someone deserving more influence in mainstream New York City politics. That transformation alone, which earned him more votes than just about anyone thought possible in New York City’s 1997 mayoral primary, was pretty remarkable.

But, see, that was New York. Sharpton has a larger support base in New York than a lot of people know, and that’s because New Yorkers, particularly black New Yorkers, know Sharpton up close and personal as the one to call for help when there’s nowhere else to turn. Outside of New York, however, Sharpton has strong name recognition, but not the kind of name recognition that would earn support. And I hate to come back to that hair because I know he and his supporters are probably tired of folks like me pouncing on it all the time as a reason to discredit the man, but the fact of the matter is that his ability to get a significant number of New Yorkers to overlook the do won’t help him the minute he crosses the state — or even the city — line.

So what’s the message? If the message is his traditional call for justice (No justice, no peace!), then that’s fine, but it’s not nearly enough of a message to even justify a message candidacy. Granted, the future field of potential Democratic presidential candidates is looking a little weak, and that’s being charitable, but it’s not that weak. And if Sharpton is just trying to make enough noise to earn himself a speech at the Democratic convention, then that’s fine too, I guess, but who is that speech supposed to benefit? Does Sharpton really have much more to say that wasn’t already addressed by Jesse Jackson, who already made the point that a black candidacy can be viable and attract multiracial support? Do we need another candidacy by another preacher to make the same point all over again on national TV just so we can watch him lose too?

I’m sorry, but at this point I really don’t care how elegantly Sharpton or anyone else can lose, nor do I care how much closer he can come than some of us may have thought he could. If I’m going to throw my support behind a black candidate, I want one who can get the job done. The day for black message candidacies, prove-a-point candidacies, and all those other candidacies that aren’t intended to win the game but rather to just put a few points on the board is through.

Keith Owens writes every other week in the Metro Times. Send comments to

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