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By Lawrence Henry
The signs are clear. The Democratic Party is actively beginning to destroy the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton - particularly Sharpton, who plans to run for President in the 2004 election.
In one of the earliest pointers to the plank, liberal high priestess Mary McGrory, commenting on the Larry Summers-Cornel West head-butt at Harvard, wrote this previously unthinkable paragraph in the January 6 Washington Post:
"The two premier demagogues, Jackson and Sharpton, had wretched childhoods and came on the national scene as frauds. Jackson appeared on television in 1968 wearing a shirt that he said was stained with the blood of Martin Luther King Jr., who he claimed had died in his arms. That was not true. Sharpton made his debut as the defender of Tawana Brawley, a Dutchess County teenager who falsely claimed she was raped in 1987. Sharpton identified a local district attorney as one of the alleged miscreants, and was later found liable when the wrongly accused man brought a defamation suit."
With two weeks arrived the approving nod from across the pond, a little more carefully couched, but unmistakable nonetheless. The Economist's American commentator, Lexington, wrote a column titled, "The Dangerous Quest of Al Sharpton," filled with words like "radioactive" and "loathe."
After the dustup that occasioned McGrory's remarkable denunciation came the flap over the commissioning of a statue for the headquarters of the New York Fire Department. The statue, based on a famous photograph of three white firefighters raising an American flag over the ruins of the World Trade Center, would recast, in bronze, those firefighters as icons of diversity - one black, one Hispanic, one white. As of this week, New York fire commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta had apparently put the kibosh on the diversity statue
The second of these hugely publicized controversies points straight to the Democrats' main concern: The formerly anonymous working class male voters who once voted for Ronald Reagan now have a world-famous public face, in the heroes of the New York fire and police departments.
But even offending this newly famous, potentially Republican constituency wouldn't have bothered the Democrats except for one thing: Al Sharpton, and the politics of race, have already lost them one election. Sharpton's ego, and Sharpton's voters, injected into the New York City mayoral race, spoiled the chances of either Freddy Ferrer or Mark Green, and instead elected Mike Bloomberg.
What's more, the same conflicts threaten the chances of VID (Very Important Democrat) Andrew Cuomo in the race for the New York State governorship, because there is a black candidate in that race, Controller Carl McCall. Sharpton could blow that contest for the Democrats, too.
A goodly number of Republican ideologues will wonder what the big deal is to the Democrats. Lifelong Dem Bloomberg switched parties just to run for the mayor's office, but did not change his extremely liberal views. New York Republican governor George Pataki is the very image of what conservative Republicans call a RINO, a Republican in Name Only - big taxer, big spender, favors gun control and abortion.
But Democrats don't care about anything but winning. After a decade of playing the politics of racial arson, they've finally set fire to their own house. In the post 9/11 world, New York's firemen and policemen, and the people throughout the country who identify with them, are seriously in play as potentially Republican voters, on the basis of their patriotism.
The Democrats fear, with good reason, that Operation PUSH and Sharpton's National Action Network could end up pushing enough formerly union-sympathetic voters to push enough Republican levers to lose the Presidential election in 2004 - and the Congressional elections two years before that. So they can't push Jackson and Sharpton to the sharks fast enough.
Lawrence Henry is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.
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