Owens: Coulda been a contender
- One of these days the Democrats will have an African- American presidential=
candidate who will provide more than the featured entertainment for the eve=
ning, and who won't be patronizingly referred to by some as the "conscience"=
of his or her party. Personally, I'm a little sick of that.
We've been the entertainment for America ever since we were first dragged o=
ff the boat. As for pricking the conscience of or being a replacement cons=
cience for a Democratic Party that many believe has stumbled off to the ri=
ght and away from its traditional base, I figure it's a lost cause trying to=
prick Massa Boss' conscience to make him do right. The only reliable way to=
make the boss do the right thing and to be as concerned about your issues=
as you are is to bump the boss aside, grab hold of the wheel, and steer t=
hat vehicle yourself.
The next time an African-American runs for president, I don't want to hear =
folks laughing uproariously and appreciatively at his or her jokes and quick=
wit. I don't want to read about how he or she is the "moral compass" among =
all the candidates when it's obvious one of those morally blind candidates w=
ill be the one receiving the nomination. What's the use of having a moral co=
mpass in a political race if it's not guiding you toward victory?
Screw the moral compass, and damn the jokes. What I want to hear in the roo=
m is the sound of respect and maybe even a little bit of fear because th=
e audience realizes that this particular African-American candidate just mig=
ht wind up in the White House, calling the shots in the most powerful nation=
When that day comes, no one will be laughing, because it won't be a joke.
When the Democratic Presidential Candidate Debate and Traveling Roadshow ca=
me to town on Oct. 26, it was the Rev. Al Sharpton who stole the show. No co=
ntest, hands- down. All you had to do was listen to the sheer volume of appl=
ause whenever he delivered one of his patented heat- seeking quotes.
Just like his political mentors the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the late, grea=
t Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the fiery, controversial and frequently very effe=
ctive New York congressman who represented Harlem from 1944 to 1969 Sharpt=
on is a walking, talking, sound bite machine. This quality alone has made hi=
m, at various points in his career, a pundit's dream. Even pundits who can't=
stand the man must admit that characters like Sharpton can spice up a story=
in a minute.
But also like Jackson, Sharpton doesn't stand a chance of winning the nomin=
ation, let alone the election. For that matter, neither does Carol Moseley B=
raun, the only other African-American candidate in the race. It's historic t=
hat there are two black presidential candidates in the race, and the fact th=
at one is a man and the other is a woman is particularly notable. But neithe=
r of them is going to the White House.
This isn't news. I suspect Jackson knew, and Sharpton and Moseley Braun kno=
w, there is no chance to win. That's because taking residence in the White H=
ouse was never really the point. The point was to make the statement that it=
was actually possible for a black person to swim with the big fish and not =
get swallowed. The first time Jackson ran, his ability to dominate the discu=
ssion was both surprising and impressive to just about everyone except those=
who knew anything about Jackson's staggering potential and abilities. His s=
peech at the 1984 Democratic Convention was one of the most memorable to eve=
r be delivered at such an event. When he ran the second time, he made an eve=
n stronger showing.
Those who are Jackson fans would say he helped pave the way for a black pre=
sidency, which was also the point. Jackson's detractors would prefer to say =
that he was nothing more than an ego-driven irritant who did little more tha=
n siphon off votes from legitimate contenders, similar to what Ross Perot di=
d when he stuck his big toe in the water and stirred up a relative tidal wav=
e for a fleeting moment.
But wherever you stood on Jackson's candidacy, I can't see the need for a r=
epeat performance. How much "paving of the way" do we need? And what's worse=
, despite Sharpton's notable and frequently underestimated intellect, hi=
s verbal dexterity and his traditional Democratic values that reflect the vi=
ews of thousands of hardcore Democrats everywhere, recent polling data shows=
that he is making much shallower inroads into the white voter base than did=
Jackson, who went so far as to actually win the state of Michigan during th=
e Democratic primary his first time around.
Black folks still apparently think Sharpton is the man to vote for. Accordi=
ng to special voter analysis conducted by the Gallup Organization for the Na=
tional Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), an organization which serves=
more than 200 African-American newspapers, Sharpton leads the pack by a wid=
e margin ahead of retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark among black voters. Among=
whites, however, Sharpton comes in dead last, with only 1 percent of those =
polled saying they would vote for him. Among whites, Clark came in first, wi=
th 22 percent, which, as stated in an article written by Hazel Trice Edney, =
NNPA's Washington correspondent, is the exact same percentage received by Sh=
arpton among blacks.
Edney's article went on to point out that a New York Times analysis of Jack=
son's two presidential campaigns the first in 1984, the second in 1988 s=
howed that Jackson won 77 percent of the black vote and 5 percent of the whi=
te vote in 1984. Four years later, Jackson received 92 percent of all ballot=
s cast by African-Americans and more than doubled his white support to 12 pe=
The road was paved. Following Jackson, the most likely African-American to =
have an actual shot at the presidency wasn't a Democrat but a Republican, Co=
lin Powell. Powell decided to pass on the opportunity, but all during the ti=
me he was giving the matter some thought, I don't recall anyone splitting th=
eir sides with laughter at his quick wit. When Powell spoke, a lot of high-l=
evel Republicans were listening very closely to every single word he uttered=
because they took this man seriously. And, yes, some were even a little bit=
scared. Why? Because they knew Powell just might have been able to pull it =
The Democrats had better start taking notes.
Keith A Owens is a Detroit-area freelance writer and musician. E-mail lette=