- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

The dust on the midterm elections has barely settled, and the congressional leaderships were just decided this week. Is it too soon to talk 2004? It's all Al Sharpton is talking about.

All Al all the time. In his new book, "Al on America." On cable news. In magazines. As a notable quotable in newspapers espousing his and only his views on the black vote and the future of the Democratic Party.

Al is even making the polls. In one, he did surprisingly well.

Five percent of Democratic voters want Al Sharpton, not Gore to be the party's presidential nominee in 2004, according to a Zogby International poll conducted in August. For perspective, consider that Mr. Sharpton shared that 5 percent spot with one ranking member of Congress, one senator and one former senator Dick Gephardt, Sen. John Kerry and onetime presidential hopeful Bill Bradley, the former New York senator.

Understand this, too: Mr. Sharpton's 5 percent beat outgoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. John Edwards. Sen. Joe Lieberman barely beat Mr. Sharpton, rating 6 percent, while the other Al that would be Mr. Gore headed this class of liberal demigods, er demagogues, with a whopping 41 percent.

This showing eggs Mr. Sharpton on. Not that he needs encouragement from either voters or polls but he does need their attention. He knows an audience, a receptive audience, is crucial to success.

Mr. Sharpton used to be the road manager for the Godfather of Soul (or James Brown for those of you still scratching your noggin). So, making sure there are always back-up plans is second nature to Mr. Sharpton, a showman and businessman rolled into one, a true self-promoter who is serious about his run for the Democratic nod in 2004, but hardly serious about winning. He knows he cannot win. He knows that, while America might be ready for a black president, Al Sharpton isn't the one. And, fortunately for America, "Al on America" spells out in black and white why. That is to say, since Mr. Sharpton failed to articulate his views on the pertinent issues in his words in his own book, how could he possibly articulate them in a serious candidates' forum?

"What do you propose to do, Mr. Sharpton, about U.S. policy that forces Haitians to risk life and limb to reach out to our shores, while Cubans are allowed to disembark safe and sound from Soviet aircraft?"

Or: "As an activist, you bounce from issue to issue, state to state, ineffective on every front. What domestic issue will be the primary focus of a Sharpton White House? And if I could, Mr. Sharpton, will you hire a beautician or barber?"

Mr. Sharpton is taken seriously by many, but there are many others who consider him a Democratic hustler a political hack whose rainbow coalition of blacks, gays and liberal whites indelibly mimics none other than the Rev. Jesse Jackson's.

Like Mr. Jackson, who twice ran for the Democratic nomination, Mr. Sharpton pronounces that blacks shouldn't let the Democrats take their votes for granted instead of denouncing Democrats for taking the black vote for granted. And he, like Mr. Jackson, has designs on Southern votes (Mr. Jackson actually won his home state of South Carolina in 1988). And like Mr. Jackson, Mr. Sharpton isn't serious about winning the Democratic nomination. His motives are as transparent as Mr. Jackson's. Rod Dreher, in his National Review Online review of Mr. Sharpton's book, illuminates: "He is convinced that this presidential run will position himself as a power broker for black America, as Jesse Jackson was until very recently, despite never winning an election. In a startling bit of candor, Sharpton writes that it's not whether he wins, but how he loses that matters."

So, here we are a short distance from the 108th Congress and a few sprints shy of the first presidential primaries and Mr. Sharpton has positioned himself at the gate. "I think our campaign will be a showdown for where the Democratic Party is going," Mr. Sharpton says in an interview in the December/January issue of Savoy magazine.

Hardly challenging, since America has been there with Jesse Jackson. There were, though, some words from Mr. Sharpton that were insightful. "I wouldn't run if I wasn't running to win."

A win on behalf of America, or a win that only benefits Mr. Sharpton?

Don't wait until 2004 to answer that question.

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