From Sideshow to Big Tent

A Campaign Plan for Making Al Sharpton Matter

Already bets are being taken that when Sharpton does not get the nomination, he'll be less than forthcoming with support for the Democratic nominee. The New Republic opined sinisterly: "Anyone who rules out the possibility that in August 2004 an aggrandized Sharpton will, after a private conversation with Karl Rove, issue a pained statement declaring that the Democratic nominee has betrayed the party's base and doesn't deserve the reverend's endorsement should have a conversation with Robert Abrams, Mario Cuomo, or Mark Green."

Sharpton has to remember the moral point of his candidacy—this is not a scorched-earth campaign. He's running to foment a movement within the Democratic Party and make it accountable to its most loyal constituencies. This must be a war for the Democratic Party, not a war on the Democratic Party. Disavowing the eventual nominee will not only discredit such an effort, but help guarantee another four years under Bush.

That doesn't mean a defeated Sharpton should retreat into the wilderness. Having endorsed the winner, he should take every measure to make sure the party stays true to its base. A "cult of personality" run will not only fail to have lasting results, it will prove Sharpton's enemies correct—something he easily could have done by staying right here in New York. It could also be a crippling blow to the Democratic Party's progressive wing—the last thing the left needs is a charlatan taking up its mantle.

illustration: Joseph Malina

But should he run adroitly and intelligently, he'll land with impact and meaning. Of course, all of this will require that he accept one simple rule—a Sharpton candidacy can't be all about Al Sharpton.

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