Al vs. the Dems

Presidential Candidate Sharpton Goes After His Party

This seems to be something that the civil rights establishment dropped the ball on, too. I agree. The civil rights establishment dropped that in many ways. That's part of my race. Many of the civil rights establishment were co-opted by the Democratic Leadership Council [DLC] when the party [phased] out emphasizing those kinds of concerns. That has come back to haunt us.

It has been reported that a new FBI policy directs bureau chiefs to compile demographic domestic data, like counting mosques, for investigations and secret national security wiretaps. Would you seek to replace the FBI guidelines that outlaw this kind of spying? Absolutely. First of all, it is wrong. It goes against the whole idea of civil liberties. What you're really doing is allowing the government to do overtly now what they did covertly in the '60s, not only to Dr. King but to every group from the [Black] Panthers to the anti-war movement. They tried a whisper campaign against Dr. King with illegal information. Imagine what they would do with legal information against anyone they would want. That is frightening. Big Brother is here, and has a license to do it.

A three-judge panel recently challenged the government concerning secret deportations. More such cases are likely to come down the pike. Could Democrats have been more effective in dealing with the Republican drive to capture judgeships? If nothing else, we could have made more noise. We could have used our bully pulpit more. Part of my race is that the Democrats have been silent, almost to the point of political laryngitis, on critical issues like judge selection, like the U.S. Patriot Act. I have never seen a season of more consent by silence than I've seen in the last decade. I think the [Democratic] strategy was, if we move to the center—which I think was a move to the right, not the center—we could get elected. One, it didn't happen, because we didn't get elected. I mean, Clinton got elected at the top. We never did regain the Congress. Gingrich killed us in '94. Look what happened in 2002. It didn't work. Second, it's wrong. It's morally indefensible. We have a party of elephants running around with donkey jackets on.

Sharpton: trying to stop the Dems' rightward drift
photo: Marc Asnin
Sharpton: trying to stop the Dems' rightward drift

Many people who are running, in my judgment, are to the right of Republicans. And that won't even come out unless there's a real debate. I'm the only candidate who is unequivocally against the war. I'm the only one who is anti-death penalty. I'm the only one pro-gun control. I'm raising issues that none of them would have to deal with because there would be no debate. That's important, not just in terms of an Al Sharpton candidacy but in terms of, What is the Democratic Party? I think 2004 is about defining what the party is.

Despite whatever tensions we've had in the last couple of years, Jesse [Jackson] mentored me. I watched Jesse take this party to where it should go. This is a battle in 2004 of the children of the rainbow versus the DLC. I think this is what it's going to come down to, if I'm successful in what I want to do. And let's define what that is. When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I knew what a Democrat was. I don't know what a Democrat is now. Is a Democrat a pro-death-penalty, a pro-war, a pro-business deregulator?

I am asking these questions now because so often all the candidates looking for black votes show up at the last minute at our churches. One of the offensive things is what you just said, and I've been saying this to ministers all over the country. As you know, I've run for office here. I have to go in the white community and explain my positions, from the beginning. Whites run, they come by our church in the middle of the choir singing "Amazing Grace," wave at us, photo op, gone. Nobody challenges them on their positions. I don't blame the candidates; I blame that on us. We need to stop allowing our communities to be photo ops for Democrats who won't address our issues. For a party that gets 92 percent of our vote, I mean, this is ridiculous. They should be dealing with these issues across the board.

The House is now considering the welfare reauthorization that demands women work 20 more hours with no more child care funds. What needs to be done? Well, first of all, it is more of the criminalizing the poor for being poor. In 1996 I marched at the Democratic convention about the welfare reform bill. Everybody in this race supported the welfare reform, and voted for it. There must be allowances for single parents in terms of child care.

Police brutality? Police accountability is a national issue. Clearly I have been involved in a lot of police brutality cases around this country. It's not just a Louima in New York; it's not just a Rodney King in L.A. There should be federal guidelines. I tried to get Clinton to do that. Martin Luther King III and I had a march on Washington around making police profiling and conduct a national issue and to get at least an executive order. Couldn't get him to do it.

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