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Jewish World Review Feb. 16, 2000 / 10 Adar I, 5760

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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Sharpton's Supplicants --
ONE THING that has become clear in the 2000 presidential race is this: The politics of the New Democrats differ from the politics of the Old Democrats not so much in approach as in degree. Democratic politics since Reconstruction have depended on catering to group interests and prejudices, this being necessary to build a coalition majority out of mutually hostile constituent groups--blacks and yellow-dog southern whites and urban working-class ethnics. This pandering has always had its respectable limits, and the overall result of such coalition politics has been good for the country. But now that the party has, as the shrinks might say, internalized the values of Clintonian total-war politics, the limits no longer exist; and the result is increasingly frightening to watch.

Consider the courtship of the Rev. Al Sharpton. In the genteel press, Sharpton is carefully referred to by euphemism--community leader, activist. Actually, he is a professional monger of racial hatred, a career inciter of race-violence.

Sharpton first came to national attention during the 1988 Tawana Brawley hoax, in which he enthusiastically spread the incendiary lie that a black teenage girl had been assaulted, smeared with feces and raped by a group of white law enforcement officers in upper New York state. That he libeled innocent men and fostered racial enmity seems never to have bothered Sharpton.

In 1991, Sharpton helped stoke the outrage of the black community of Brooklyn's Crown Heights, following the accidental killing of a black child there by a car in the motorcade of the orthodox Rabbi Menachem Schneerson. The days of violence that followed culminated in the street mob-murder of Yankel Rosenbaum.

In 1995, Sharpton supported a racist and obviously explosive street protest against a Jewish-owned Harlem clothing store, Freddy's, which was accused of attempting to drive a black record store out of business. In a rally broadcast on his weekly radio program, Sharpton spoke thusly: "We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business on 125th Street." Also broadcast were these statements by protest leader Morris Powell, head of the 125th Street Vendors Association: "We're not going to stand idly by and let a Jewish person come in black Harlem and methodically drive black people out of business. We are going to see that this cracker suffers. Reverend Sharpton is on it." On Dec. 8, after two months of rhetorical violence, protestor Roland Smith entered the store armed with a pistol. Screaming, "It's on now, all blacks out," Smith opened fire. He set the store ablaze, and then shot himself. Smith killed seven store employees, most of them minorities. Afterward, Sharpton said he had only been seeking to mediate.

In pursuit of black votes, Bill Bradley, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore have all wooed Sharpton. Bradley and Clinton have been open and enthusiastic about this. Clinton appeared with Sharpton at his headquarters on Martin Luther King Day. She took the stage shortly after the Rev. Charles Norris of Sharpton's National Action Network warmed up the crowd with a little parable about how he once had been fired from a job by "these two Jews" but then had been "employed by another Jew named Jesus." By way of dealing with this, Clinton shoved into her speech the coy line: "We know that antisemitism still stalks our land as well." She then went on to prejudge the trial of four white policemen charged in the shooting of Amadou Diallo, calling the unadjudicated case "a tragic murder," a remark she later retracted.

Gore long hesitated, but last weekend he finally paid obeisance to Sharpton. Being Gore, he did it dishonestly. As the New York Times reported, Gore's meeting with Sharpton "was hidden from public view . . . in the apartment of Karenna Gore Schiff, Mr. Gore's oldest daughter." Meanwhile, naturally, Gore's aides lied. From the Times account: "The press corps that normally follows Mr. Gore were told by his aides that the meeting with Mr. Sharpton was not happening and that his visit to his daughter's apartment was strictly personal."

There has been much press attention to the pandering of various Republicans over such race-related issues as the flying of the Confederate flag over the capitol in South Carolina. And some of the Republican behavior has been revolting. But nothing the Republicans have done comes anywhere close--for partisan irresponsibility, for a cynical and really dangerous disregard of the national good, for sheer revulsion factor--to the Democratic pursuit of the love of Al Sharpton.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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