The Rev. Al Sharpton, like Jesse Jackson before him, has grand ambitions. But with only 3% of Americans saying they will vote for him, it is clear he won't get any closer to the Oval office than Jackson did. Sharpton, who is against President Bush's tax cut, welfare reform, the death penalty and war in Iraq, is, however, convinced that he has a message many Americans will want to listen to.
"I am running," he says, "to take on the DLC, which I call the Democratic Leisure Class, because that's whom it serves--the leisure class and the wealthy." It is a well-aimed message. While millions of Americans have enjoyed economic good times over the past decade, many more have not. "I think that we lost our way," Sharpton argues. "You know, the Bible says, 'What profits a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?', he asks, referring to the drift of the Democratic Party to the right.
"We lost our soul. We stopped speaking for working class people. We stopped speaking for labour. We stopped speaking for minorities. But then we expected them to rally around us after we had abandoned them. It's like a father leaving his family and then wondering why no one showed up at his birthday party. Maybe because you left them, and there's nothing to say 'Happy Birthday, Dad' about." Al Sharpton is convinced he can have success appealing to the left, liberal wing of the Democratic Party in the same way another black candidate--Jesse Jackson--did 20 years ago. "The Democratic Party acts as if black voters are their mistress that they have to hide," Sharpton argues.
Though not the first African American to run for the White House, Jesse Jackson's bid for the presidency in 1984 was the first serious effort by an African-American to become America's head of state. Jackson did not, of course, win the Democratic Party nomination. His strong showing in several Democratic primaries did not, though, make it seem as far-fetched as it once had that Americans might one day elect a black person to the presidency.
Encouraged by his performance in 1984, Jackson made another bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination again in 1988. This time he won a respectable 30% of the votes at the Democratic National Convention, 20% below the figure needed to win the nomination. The eventual Democratic winner that year, Michael Dukakis, was roundly beaten by George Herbert Walker Bush.
Many political analysts who had once regarded Jackson as a mere grandstander, later admitted that Jackson would have given Bush a tougher battle for the presidency than Dukakis did. "This campaign," Jackson said famously after his defeat, "has not been in vain."
Since Jackson's historic bids in 1984 and 1988, millions of African-Americans have registered to vote. After concluding that Jackson would have fared better in his bid for the White House had more of the estimated 40 million African-Americans been actually registered to vote, several black organizations, in particular the black Baptist and Pentecostal churches, took it upon themselves to begin aggressively signing up voters.
Reverend Al (as the 49-year-old self styled Reverend with famously pressed hair is widely known), was responsible for leading many of these registration drives, himself. Observers don't believe, though, this will help him get any nearer the White House.
In part, this is because Sharpton is not the only black candidate for the Democratic Party nomination in 2004. Carol Mosely Braun, the first African-American woman to win a seat in the US Senate and a former ambassador to New Zealand, Samoa, the Cook Islands and Antarctica, is also running.
She declared her surprise candidacy at the very last moment, and many have speculated that she is a spoiler sent to play havoc with Sharpton's campaign by Jesse Jackson, who is worried that Sharpton is trying to usurp him as the "Voice of Black America". …