He apparently thought he actually had a shot at winning in South Carolina, which was clearly delusional. He got less than 10% of the overall vote, only about one in five votes from blacks -- supposedly his core constituency -- and not a single delegate. (His one delegate to date comes from Delaware, which by some weird electoral calculus gave one delegate to the sixth-place finisher in its primary, Sharpton, and let the winner, Kerry, take the other fourteen). Many of those votes were likely cast as conscious protest votes by people who knew full well that Sharpton didn't have a prayer of winning anything. And he achieved even that with the well-publicized assistance of a hotshot Republican strategist working for free -- quite clearly meaning to tar the Democratic party as a whole by association with Sharpton, particularly in the South, where that kind of tar is depressingly likely to stick.
But his South Carolina finish, dismal though it may have been, still placed him third statewide, ahead of a legitimate candidate or two, and that ought to give you a little pause. Even a protest vote for Sharpton is still a vote for the bloodthirsty buffoon who sparked a riot in Crown Heights. Why?
Well, some of those people may have been thinking that the legitimate candidates weren't paying enough attention to black issues, and needed a kick. Which I'm ill-equipped to judge.
But there may also be people who view Sharpton as the closest thing to "black leadership" in the legitimate political process -- in part because, when "black leadership" shows up in the major media, it's not someone like Kweisi Mfume, who did yeoman's work in Congress before taking his current post as the head of the NAACP, it's someone like Sharpton. Similarly, the picture that you'd get of a "black mayor" in the national media is a lot more Marion Barry than, say, Andrew Young (or any of the other blacks who have done, on the whole, a fairly decent job running Atlanta for quite a while now).
Perhaps this just reflects the media's prediliction for the wild and outrageous over the responsible and dull. Because no one would deliberately try to do something like this out of deliberate racial politics. Not even Rupert Murdoch. Why, that would make them no better than The Washington Times...
We must ask why Al Sharpton emerged as a contender for national Black leadership via the presidential primaries. The answer is simple, and should be deeply troubling: He was the only one to step forward. Such was also the case in the decades of Sharpton’s rise to prominence in New York. When police brutalized African Americans, Al Sharpton was there. When demonstrations needed to be mounted, Sharpton was on point. When Black anger rose, Sharpton rose to the occasion – year, after year, after year.
Whites of all political persuasions denounced Sharpton as an opportunist and publicity seeker – as if they were telling Black folks something we didn’t know. But we desperately needed publicity, and an opportunity to be heard. Rev. Al seized the spotlight and shook things up, which was a lot better than nothing.
Somebody Black had to do it.
So, who’s stepping forward, now?
Very sad, if true -- and stunning, especially since the leadership organizations of the 1960s civil rights movement still exist, and New York is, well... not entirely bereft of legitimate black politicians. Which leaves me, as a white guy in Boston, still wondering -- was Sharpton the only one to step forward, or the only one to get press?