A long career of bigotry, blood on his hands and a video of him discussing a drug deal are not a barrier.
Imagine if MSNBC gave a TV show to a violent racist who led angry mobs against Jewish and Asian communities and businesses. Mobs that gathered outside a Jewish synagogue chanting "Heil Hitler" and "Death to the Jews."
Unimaginable, right? Wrong. After years of accusing FOX News of racism, MSNBC gave a violent racist his own show. Of course MSNBC would never give a white racist like David Duke his own show. But they have no problem giving one to Al Sharpton.
Sharpton is many things---a cunning gutter clown, a hate-filled agitator and a savvy trader in political favors. Those qualities have taken him from street riots to a kingmaker role in the Democratic Party to the White House, where he has become its link to the black community.
Sharpton has eclipsed Jesse Jackson as the national agitator with the highest profile, adopting Jackson's old role of middleman between the Democratic Party and the black community, and his business model of blackmailing corporations with boycott threats to fund his organization. The National Action Network, Sharpton’s organization, commands appearances by Obama and Biden, and true to his usual financial dealings remains deep in debt while paying him a six figure salary.
But there can be no talk of Sharpton without discussing the trail of debris behind him. Yankel Rosenbaum, the University of Melbourne student, stabbed and beaten to death on President Street among the stately manors of what was once known as Doctor's Row, was the most famous victim of Sharpton's Crown Height Pogrom, but not the only one.
There was Anthony Graziosi, a white, bearded Italian electronics salesman wearing a dark suit, who was mistaken for a Jew, and died for it. Bracha Estrin, a Holocaust survivor, who saw the mobs chanting "Heil Hitler" and "Death to the Jews" and believing that history was about to repeat itself, jumped rather than fall into their hands.
Twenty years ago this August, a line of bodies was lowered into the ground. And Sharpton walked away with a higher national profile than ever. Three years later, another round of racist protests at Freddy's Fashion Mart with protesters screaming, "Burn down this Jew store!" led to an attack that killed seven minority employees.
The Freddy's protests were led by Morris Powell, head of the Buy Black Committee at Sharpton's National Action Network. Powell had been previously put on trial for breaking the head of a Korean woman during one of his pickets.
Sharpton's MO was to create chaos, and then represent himself as the man who could stop it. The uglier the confrontations got, the more people died, the more credibility he gained.
In 2001, he went from terrorizing entire neighborhoods to claiming control over the outcome of the mayoral election. Shortly thereafter the New York State Democratic Party made it clear that attacks on Sharpton were no longer acceptable. Senate candidates were expected to court the hatemonger and did. And then it was presidential candidates.
Sharpton's presidential run utilized the same tactics at the national level that had worked for him at the city and state level. He wasn't out to win, just to cause enough chaos and uncertainty that the party would buy him off. And it worked.
It was a surprisingly short journey from a racist agitator who intimidated city authorities, to a state leader who intimidated the New York State Democratic Party, to a national leader who intimidated the entire Democratic Party.
Less than 10 years after the Freddy's fire, Sharpton was addressing a national audience from the stage of the Democratic National Convention. Twenty years after the Crown Heights Pogrom, he is Obama’s unofficial outreach man to the black community and on the verge of getting his own full-time MSNBC show. A long career of bigotry, blood on his hands and a video of him discussing a drug deal are not a barrier.
Sharpton cuts a ridiculous figure at MSNBC. It isn't every man who can make Ed Schultz look like a class act, but Sharpton manages that. His on air flubs have gone viral and what's worse is that when he isn't stumbling over words, he has nothing to say.
MSNBC got rid of Olbermann, but replaced him with an even bigger diva with a long history of racist blackmail. Sharpton is more controversial than Olbermann, but far less articulate. If Olbermann was trying to be Cronkite in drag, Sharpton doesn't know what to do without a microphone and a mob. Sharpton's name has attracted attention, where Cenk Uygur's only brought bafflement, and as a reliable Obama toady he won't cause any grief for the White House. But the MSNBC gig exposes what a hollow man the Reverend Al is.
The son of a Cadillac driving slumlord, Sharpton is a spectacularly implausible choice as a civil rights leader. His ridiculous hairstyle, jumpsuits and jewelry, and his over the top delivery were the tricks of a carnival showman.
The MSNBC gig allows Sharpton to deliver White House talking points to a national audience, but what happens in 2013 without a Democratic administration in need of messaging? Sharpton has gotten this far by presenting himself as the intermediary between the Ivy League liberal and the black street. In Obama's words, "the voice of the voiceless." But what happens if the turnout isn't there?
Sharpton has been able to drive racist mobs to target defenseless minorities, but if he can’t drive voters to the polls, then he will suddenly be much less useful to MSNBC and the party it serves. The future of the "limousine racist" is closely tied to black turnout in 2012. And if he doesn't deliver, Sharpton will be back screaming at hate filled crowds in Brooklyn. Back to the minor leagues of the party of hate.