Memo To: Democrats of All Shades
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: A Blocking Back
I’ve been a fan of the Rev. Al Sharpton for years. He’s actually my favorite black political leader, as no matter how much controversy he becomes embroiled in on behalf of his constituents, he always lands on his feet. And the older he gets, the better he gets in addressing issues of public policy that face all Americans. When I watched him Sunday on Meet the Press, fending off the best shots that Tim Russert threw at him, it struck me that he is the only Democrat to throw his hat in the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination who does not seem to be reading from a script prepared for him by his handlers. Senator John Edwards of North Carolina is a lot prettier that Sharpton, but Tim Russert chewed him up and spit him out, to the point where Edwards’ handlers vow they will never allow him to go on Meet the Press again. The Kerrys and Gephardts and Liebermans are a little better, because they have been around the track, but if they get a question that they have not been prepped for, they also seem lost, looking for their Cliff notes.
Indeed, I thought I really could vote for Sharpton to get the Democratic presidential nomination, if I were still a Democrat. If he had a little help on the economic issues, which I would be happy to give him the same way I will assist any presidential contender in either party – for free, Sharpton could get lots of votes, not just those of family and friends. His positions on national security make a lot more sense than I hear from any Democrat or any Republican, with the exception of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is also a black guy, but not nearly as adroit as Sharpton on the entire range of public policy issues. Russert pulled all the usual stops trying to get him to hem and haw, including his defense of Tawana Brawley, the black teenager who cooked up a hoax about four white guys raping her, two of whom were cops. Sharpton flat out refused to apologize, saying he did what he did at the time because he believed in the girl. (Russert probably does not remember that Bill Cosby was shoulder-to-shoulder with Sharpton throughout. My wife Patricia does.)
As long as I have been watching Sharpton from a distance – I only met him once at a Charlie Rangel fundraiser (where I also met Donald Trump) – and I’ve never heard a false note from him. The Rev. Jesse Jackson long ago learned how to talk out of both sides of his mouth, but Min. Louis Farrakhan, a religious leader, is the only other “black leader” I’ve come across since Martin Luther King, Jr., who tells it like it is without worrying about how white folks will react. As a professional political communicator for a good part of my 66 years, it has always seemed obvious to me that the nation’s racial divide could never be effectively bridged unless black leaders emerged who would not speak with forked tongue. Of course, when a Martin Luther King or a Malcolm X does show up with straight talk, they alarm the white political establishment, which prefers to keep them on the farm.
When Min. Farrakhan broke his rule in 1984 of sticking to his mosque, and endorsed Jesse Jackson for President, he made an angry speech warning the white guys against any idea of bumping off Jesse. “We can lose elections, but we cannot afford to lose any more leaders.” New York City Mayor Ed Koch promptly labeled Min. Farrakhan a “Black Hitler,” which more or less gunned down a good man with a totally unwarranted character assassination. When I confronted Koch with the fact three or four years ago in an e-mail exchange, he finally wrote that he did not want to continue contact with me. It would be politically incorrect.
So let us hear from Al Sharpton, a very, very smart fellow who is running for President. It is of course highly unlikely that he would make it to the nomination, but he could be the “blocking back” for an otherwise timid field of white quarterbacks. You may think me nuts for writing this, but I guarantee you that if the press corps pays attention to Sharpton, he will get the attention of the American people the same way Ross Perot did in 1992. And it will show up in the polls, as the electorate is now interested in finding truthtellers in a political world of truth-trimmers and stretchers.
Could Sharpton actually be President? Of course he can. Stack him up against George W Bush ten years ago, and you will have to agree that Sharpton would demolish GWB in a head-to-head political debate on national television. At the time, GWB was the general manager of the Texas Rangers baseball team, and he did not have known views on anything of substance. He got where he is because he is a Bush, and because when he did get into politics, he somehow stumbled on Karl Rove, a world-class political chessplayer. If Sharpton could find the equivalent, he could make it close to the top, as the national electorate has a definite interest in blocking backs who speak their minds and who have well-developed minds.
Check out the Meet the Press transcript. Here was Tim Russert asking Sharpton about his views on whether we should use force against Iraq, and Sharpton saying most definitely we should not unless we have run out of all diplomatic options. Russert asks: What if we find that Saddam has a nuclear bomb? I think he really thought Sharpton would lose it and hem and haw. But Sharpton said right back: We should then treat Iraq the same way we are treating North Korea. With a full-press diplomacy.
Not bad, Al. I vote for that.