- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

There is trouble in the Democratic Party. Earlier this week, Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia announced that he was breaking with his party’s leadership and would support — and even campaign for — President Bush’s re-election next year. On Tuesday, the Rev. Al Sharpton, pastor and presidential candidate, opened another fissure within the party. Responding to Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s plans to endorse Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination, the reverend charged that Mr. Dean’s platform promoted an “anti-black agenda.” This hyperbole unfortunately distracts from some legitimately good ideas being promoted by Mr. Sharpton.

A week ago, in Sister Space bookshop in Washington’s U Street corridor, the reverend announced that he supports a two-year grace period from federal taxes for start-up small businesses. “Most small businesses fail in the first year,” he told The Washington Times, “so let’s give entrepreneurs a period of no taxation so they can get their operations on their feet.” If passed into law, such a tax break would have a major impact on the economy. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, two-thirds of all new jobs are created by small businesses, which also produce 40 percent of America’s gross domestic product.

In September, Mr. Sharpton warned black voters, “We must not be in a relationship with a Democratic Party that takes us for granted. We must no longer be the political mistresses of the Democratic Party.” His point was that blacks and their ideas aren’t respected in the Democratic Party because they are perceived to have nowhere else to go. That’s not necessarily the case. The Sharpton business tax-break plan is a classic Republican issue. So are the social criticisms of welfare, promiscuity and the drug culture that dominate sermons at many urban churches.

Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Jackson’s father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., are the two most prominent leaders in the black community, and in a way they are competing for the loyalty of many of the same people. Both play the race card, but the elder Mr. Jackson is more of an old-school leftist, with not much to offer outside of affirmative-action shakedowns. Mr. Sharpton could take the community in a direction away from the trap of big government and more dependency. On at least one issue — the small-business tax break — the other nine Democratic presidential candidates should be listening to Mr. Sharpton.

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