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Owens: Coulda been a contender

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  • James
    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,
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2003
      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=
      on earth.

      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=
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