The Rev. Al Sharpton and the Democrats
Forget about the smoke and fog spewed by corporate media and chattering consultants of all colors. Let us begin with a stark forecast: The Democratic Party primaries must result in a national ticket that is fit for Black participation. If the party cannot loosen the fatal grip of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)–the Republican wing of the party–it will die. Black voters and their allies will either purge the DLC from national influence this primary season, or leave the Democrats to spiral into deserved oblivion.
That is what the polling data actually foretell–not an incipient Black conservatism, but levels of frustration with the national Democratic Party so high among Blacks that one more betrayal will likely spark a massive exit, even if the destination is… nowhere, the negative alternative that has already been chosen by a huge chuck of younger African Americans.
First and foremost, Black participation hinges on denying the presidential nomination to the dreadful, racist Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT), the DLC’s champion. He will soon be recognized as wholly unacceptable to Black voters, who are the progressive mass base of the party, and to anti-war voters, a majority sentiment within the ranks at this time, nationwide.
Lieberman and the DLC spell electoral non-participation by Blacks. Therefore, he and his ilk are the enemies of all those who seek the broadest, most intense political involvement of African Americans in national life. There can be no compromise with people who poison the political well. Cohabitation with Rightists and racists means death to the Party.
Ninety percent of Black voters participate in national elections as Democrats. Therefore, the Democratic Party and its primaries are the field of national electoral expression for Black people as a whole. It is where the bulk of the people are–for now. In a fundamental sense, African Americans work out their political yearnings and programs through the mechanisms of the Democratic Party. If the political house is unwholesome, polluted with the unmistakable odors of white supremacy and Black sycophancy, African Americans recoil as one body.
To believe otherwise is to misread history–which is the norm in a society that prefers to operate on a succession of lies. No group turned more quickly and dramatically to the promise of Democratic liberalism than Black Americans. It is on the residual strength of the promise of inclusive, progressive Democratic politics that Blacks have remained solidly Democratic since completing the transition en masse and in the political blink of an eye four decades ago.
Black loyalty to Democratic Party structures has been misinterpreted as inertia–a racist conclusion that implies laziness of thought and action. This false reading of African American motives and intelligence has led whites in the Party–and some Black operatives–to miscalculate the cumulative effects of the savage compromises that have been foisted on Black Democrats since Jimmy Carter’s “New South” term in the White House. Assuming that Blacks will “stay” simply because they have nowhere else to “go,” national Democrats refuse to understand that Rev. Al Sharpton’s support derives from deep anger and heartfelt disappointment, not with Trent Lott and the White Man’s Party, but with them. Sharpton is dismissed as a mere showman, in effect relegating Black voters to the status of an Apollo Theater crowd on amateur night. The expectation appears to be that Sharpton and his supporters will make a lot of noise, attain emotional release, and return meekly to the fold.
The Democratic Party and its consultants grossly underestimate Black capacity for decisive action, ignoring the sea changes that have swept over the Black body politic in the past. More specifically, they underestimate Rev. Sharpton, who has no personal stake in the Democratic Party’s institutionalized structures of Black mollification and is the sworn foe of the Democratic Leadership Council.
When Sharpton tells Village Voice writer Thulani Davis, “Many people who are running, in my judgment, are to the right of Republicans,” he is speaking most directly about Sen. Joseph Lieberman and the DLC. When Sharpton declares that he is in a battle for “the soul of the Democratic Party” he means he is running against the existing structures that have brought the Party “to the right, not the center.” And when polls show that Sharpton will capture Black majorities in the primaries, that means masses of African Americans agree with his assessment of the Party and are as anxious as he is to disassemble its racist components. Huge numbers will follow Sharpton despite his perm, because they know that he “speaks truth to power,” an esteemed quality among African Americans, the most sophisticated electorate in America.
Al Sharpton will not tolerate the influence, much less nomination, of Lieberman, the standard bearer for all that is wrong with the Democratic Party. Sharpton will treat Lieberman as the Republican that he is, methodically “outing” the devious crypto-racist in terms that no amount of corporate media ridicule and distortion can obscure. It is at that point, in the heat of foreign conflict and domestic anxiety, that the Black public will approach a sea change in their perception of the Democratic Party.
The future of the Party will then be in the hands, not of Rev. Al Sharpton who does not seek to destroy it, but of the men and women who have disrespected Black voters for the better part of a lifetime. They can have a Party crippled by Lieberman’s DLC, or they can retain a Sharptonized Black electorate. But they can’t have both.
THE BLACK COMMENTATOR is one of CounterPunch’s favorite websites. We encourage all of you to bookmark the site and become regular visitors. The editors can be reached at: email@example.com