Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 30, 2003
POLITICS: Sharpton vs. Dean
This whole business of Al Sharpton accusing Howard Dean of having an "anti-black agenda" is just endlessly amusing on many levels, but also revealing. The charge itself is bogus, of course; Sharpton picks two facially race-neutral issues that have killed the national Democrats in the past (guns and the death penalty), and lumps them in with Dean's 1995 statement (apostasy!) that "I think we ought to look at affirmative action programs based not on race but on class," which of course Dean instantaneously disavowed and promised to have no other gods but race-based affirmative action, thus forestalling the inevitable plagues of frogs, locusts and boils.
First of all, this is a big moment for Dean: you haven't really arrived in American politics until you've been called a racist by Al Sharpton.
Second, it is almost certainly not a coincidence that this comes immediately on the heels of Dean gaining the endorsement of Rev. Jesse Jackson, and I suspect it has a lot more to do with Jackson than it does with Dean. [UPDATE: My bad. It was an endorsement by Jackson's son, who's a Congressman. The larger point remains valid, since Sharpton timed his attack to coincide with the first significant African-American support for Dean]
Third, it's pathetic that Dean won't respond in kind. I know the front-runner needs to look above it all; and I know that most Democrats figure they will look like racist bullies if they go out of their way to make an issue of Sharpton and his long record of hate-filled ranting and dishonesty. But Sharpton took a swing at the king in the bluntest terms possible, and was disingenuous in doing so; surely if he's ever going to be fair game, it's now. This should be every Democrat's dream: a chance to denounce Sharpton and everything he stands for in a context where you won't get blowback for being "divisive" as you would if you went out of your way to go after him. Instead, Dean runs scared. If Dean doesn't have the cojones to criticize Al Frickin' Sharpton, the man's got no business running for president.
Fourth, notice how all of Dean's statements giving a little ground to the Right -- on affirmative action, Medicare, etc. -- are from about 1995, right after the Gingrich sweep of Congress. That says something too: Dean smelled which way the wind was blowing in 1995, and floated some trial balloons to see if he could position himself as a moderate. One wonders if he was thinking nationally already at that point, or just worried about keeping his job in changing times. Either way, he's clearly decided to set a different course since then.