Al Sharpton's Embarassment of a Speech

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The biggest mistake of the Democratic Convention earlier this week was to allow Al Sharpton to speak. Everyone was expecting a smaller bounce than normal for Kerry after the convention, but the polls I've seen suggest that he's actually still losing ground after the convention, just at a slower rate of losing ground than he had been before it. Al Sharpton is one of the reasons, I'm sure. They were trying hard to have a well-scripted, well-timed convention, masquerading as conservatives, toning down the rhetoric against Bush so as to look positive with all sorts of veiled venom whose depth of negativity the average viewer won't detect. Most of the speakers were performing admirably. See my comments on Clinton's speech to see how masterful he was at pretending he was being positive and uniting while making all sorts of false and unfair claims. He has amazing skills at the kind of rhetoric philosophy courses teach people to see through. It's brilliant psychologically, though to someone like me it just gives the appearance of stupidity for lack of a real argument.

Well, Sharpton didn't hide anything. He still had bad rhetoric in lieu of any arguments, but it was exactly that -- bad rhetoric. He's not fooling anyone. Even those who don't know of his history of bigotry can see that the guy is a divider, an angry hater who gives a very different image from what Kerry is trying to fashion for himself with this convention. All the liberal commentators on MSNBC (Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, etc.) were pointing this out. There are some aspects of his speech that are so evil in the disguise he puts on them that not everyone would notice, but it only took viewing a couple minutes of the 24 he spent (though he was allotted only 6) for me to think the Democratic leadership were regretting allowing him on. Here's his speech.

1. He thinks the voting rights of all Americans and all Democrats are being threatened, and voting for John Kerry will save them. What is he talking about? I do know that he was on the bandwagon complaining about voter disenfranchisement in Florida in 2000. The counties he was talking about were controlled by Democrats, so I'm not sure how voting for John Kerry will stop those problems, if indeed there was anything to them, which I've never seen any evidence for.

2. He seems to want to have the Democratic party take credit for the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, the latter of which gave blacks the vote (see above). More Republicans than Democrats supported both Civil Rights Acts. He asserts flat-out that it was the Democratic party that gave black people both. I'm not sure where he's learned his history, but he needs to go review it. The only way I can make any sense of these absurd claims is that he thinks whoever is president at the time is in control of what Congress does.

3. He seems to want to give the impression that Democratic strangleholds on the entire government is normalcy, and any Republican control of anything means the country no longer belongs to Americans. "And let me quickly say, this is not just about winning an election. It's about preserving the principles on which this very nation was founded." So apparently there's something radically un-American about Republicans. Last I knew Democrats were complaining about conservatives who said such things about liberals. He ends his speech with a call to make America beautiful again. When was it beautiful before, and when did it stop being so? In terms of race issues, we were never better than the last half century has brought us. Racism has become impossible to manifest without severe social reprimand, and each generation brings a higher percentage of those who oppose racism. The inequalities due to segregation continue to decrease much more quickly than the Civil Rights generation would have expected. The only way I can read this is that America is not beautiful simply because Republicans are in control. This is an insult to all those who have worked for progress during his lifetime.

4. He describes the twenty-some nations involved with Iraq, many of them traditionally out-of-power nations, as a unilateral effort. Way to include the historically oppressed underdog nations. Way to affirm the Western European snobbery that remains from the days when it had originally given rise to racism (and still supports anti-semitism).

5. This will be an unpopular statement of mine, but I'll say it anyway. He uses 'women's rights' as a code phrase of allowing women to kill their children before they're born. This was a close Supreme Court decision initially, and one of the deciding voters regretted it within a year of voting that way. Sharpton encourages fear-mongering about women-haters who want to shift the Supreme Court by one vote on this issue (actually, it would take two, but this is Sharpton) to try to keep women down. Does he forget that pro-lifers see this as a human rights vs. women's convenience issue? He's siding with convenience. His point is that women's rights are threatened by something as small as one vote on the Supreme Court. Well, isn't that exactly what happened the first time with fetuses' rights?

6. I'm imagining the civil rights issue he's talking about is affirmative action. Does he think that's a civil right? Even Thurgood Marshall is on record saying it should only be a temporary measure, one he hoped would be unnecessary within 100 years. John McWhorter and others have argued that it's unnecessary even now, at least at the college level. If McWhorter is right, then affirmative action is harmful to the black community. I think there's something to his argument. How can Sharpton then label this an issue of civil rights? Some of the main opposition to affirmative action isn't on the grounds of white people affirming their rights (which is a specious argument given how the argument for affirmative action is usually put) but of minimizing the harm to the black community of a policy that was once a good idea and led to some great things. How is that a threat to civil rights? Either the man is a complete idiot for not seeing this, or he's totally ignorant of the most vocal critics of his own career, which is never a good idea if you want to be able to defend yourself against your critics.

7. He has some idea of the promise of America, which somehow includes guarantees to things the founding fathers would never had heard of. One is a quality education for everyone. I'm all for a good education, but a guarantee? The founding fathers wouldn't have known a whole lot about the idea of the government providing anyone's education, never mind health care. How is this the American promise? Who promised these things, and why should we think they're something anyone has a right to? Never mind that Kerry's health care plan would have all the problems of similar plans such as Canada's. I'd rather deal with the current system with the kinds of revisions Republicans have in mind than to have to wait for the government to assign me a hospital date three months away for an operation that would best occur in the next month, to have the government deny me the chance to have the operation to begin with because it costs too much, to have less choice in general about how to get my family's medical needs taken care of, to have taxes raised a huge amount or the deficit increased more than it already would be simply because Kerry's plans involve far more spending than even Bush, who isn't exactly a budget decreaser. This is from someone who wouldn't have decent health insurance if it weren't for a New York public plan better than most states have. I'd say similar things about whatever Sharpton might recommend for education (usually just throwing money at it but not spending it to ensure good teachers).

8. He continues the myth that the WMD argument for Iraq was faulty, along with the revisionary view of history that says Bush added other reasons after it was clear that there were no WMD (which never became clear anyway, but the other reasons were there in September 2002). I've covered this elsewhere. He goes as far as comparing the WMD justification with his telling everyone to leave the convention center because of some unspecified danger and then saying he just wanted fresh air. This is about as irresponsible an analogy as a political speaker could give. At best it would be like saying there was a bomb in the convention center and then discovering that one of the five people who told you there was a bomb turned out to be lying, with another saying it might have been a bomb that wasn't set and has now been removed.

9. He goes back to the promise of America thing, saying that whoever is making these promises has promised not to let the government interfere with what goes on in the bedroom. The way he puts it makes it sound as if I have a right to rape someone in my bedroom, though he clearly doesn't mean that. My real problem, though, is that if any consensual sex is ok, would he publicly advocate incest? I don't see any argument against that if consensuality and obvious harm are the only reasons to invade the bedroom with laws. His counter to this is that it is the government's business what people are eating in their kitchen. I'm not sure why anyone should think they have a right to dependency on the government for food. Do we really want to advertize the American dream by telling people the promise of America is that people can come here and be on welfare for the next few generations? Is this the message Kerry wants to send?

10. He implies that differing standards of immigration for different cultures is treating a culture as inferior. How's that? Culture's transcend national borders, and immigration differences come from differences in government and not in culture. There are reasons for those different policies. Examine and critique those reasons. Don't caricature them.

11. He thinks people who live in D.C. can't vote. They do vote. They just don't have a voting representative in Congress. The people representing them can speak in Congress. They vote for president. There's a story behind why they don't have a voting representative in Congress, having to do with complicated political reasons at the founding, some of which aren't as important since Lincoln declared that states were no longer really independent states, some of which some think are still pretty important. I'm not an expert on that issue, but he makes it sound as if we're committed to giving Iraqi people the right to vote while, inconsistently with that, preventing Americans from voting. That's an unfair comparison for two reasons, first what I've already mentioned and second because the only reason he really brought Iraq in was to act as if Bush's priorities are to do things elsewhere and ignore our own people, when in reality there are many things Bush has done domestically. It's not as if Iraq has kept him from trying to pursue his agenda at home, not all of which the Republican-led Congress allowed him.

12. Then the reparations argument comes in. He says Lincoln promised 40 acres and a mule. It never came. Well, Lincoln wasn't the government. The Southern Democrats wouldn't allow everything he tried. Even worse, Sharpton acts as if reparations have never occurred. What does he think 40 years of welfare for most of the worst-off black citizens of this country were? That's certainly payment, and it's directed at those who, presumably, are the worst off as a result of discrimination and the effects of slavery and segregation. What about 40 years of affirmative action, which in the minds of many black people today is justified exactly on the grounds of reparations? Many other social programs come to mind, and every single one of them was initiated by white people to control and keep down help economic advancement within and serve as reparations to black people.

13. He has this long speech at the end during which he presumes to speak for the entirety of the black vote. What hubris! "This vote can't be bargained away. This vote can't be given away .... Our vote is not for sale." Bargaining sounds more like what happened originally with the Democrats. What Bush has been trying to do is to make the case that Democrats don't deserve that vote. I think he's made an incredibly compelling case that most black voters refuse to see because they're enmeshed in a racial narrative designed to hide the fact that many problems in the black community today are a direct result of Democratic policies. That in itself doesn't mean Republicans deserve the black vote, but it does mean Democrats don't. Bush has admitted that the Republican party still has a ways to go, but I think he's given enough reason for black people to support him over Kerry, if they were to see the blinders put on them by people like Sharpton. I've said more on that here.

The fact is that Democratic policies have served as a buyoff for many black voters. The black vote has already been bought off. That's why any Republican argument, no matter how good it is, will not convince. It reminds me of the French immunity to argument regarding Iraq, which turned out to be due to payoffs and bribes. It's the same sort of thing. But then he talks as if it's Republicans who are trying to buy off the vote. How are policies that encourage and support responsibility and incentive to hard work going to come out as a buyoff compared to the huge government programs Democrats have already hired the black vote with? It's an insult to those voters to do that, but it's blindness to act as if that's what the other party is doing.

This divisiveness, this level of falsehood mixed with ire, is not the image Kerry wanted to send. I'm glad some Democrats have seen that. It's not that Kerry doesn't share the sentiment. I'm sure he does. It's just that the act he's been putting on at this convention doesn't allow Sharpton's sort of grandstanding and moral superiority in areas where he has no right to say anything. I thought Clinton's speech was unfair and filled with falsehood but wrapped in nicey-nice talk toward working together and not portraying the opponent negatively. Sharpton at least didn't hide behind such a veneer. There was some false positivity here amidst his largely negative message, particularly at the end. The misinformation and misinterpretation of his political opponents is far worse than Clinton's, though. This is what Christ Matthews, Howard Fineman, and whoever else was with them didn't note in focusing so much on how his act would come off to the Kerry people who wanted this to look like a Republican convention. Almost every statement in this speech is either false or loaded with a false assumption, either about the good of Democratic policies or about the motivations or policies of Bush.

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Sharpie strikes again from Uncle Sam's Cabin on July 31, 2004 10:37 PM

Hubby skillfully dissects Al Sharpton's speech at the Democrat National Convention the other night. His post "Al Sharpton's Embarassment of a Speech" nicely cuts to the bone of Sharpie's rhetoric and lays bare it's lack of connection to truth and rea... Read More


In all fairness, I don't recall Sharpton saying that Democrats per se were responsible for the CRA and VRA. I recall him saying that blacks gotthe Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act under Democratic presidents. Which is true. President Johnson played a HUGE role behind the scenes in getting the VRA passed, without conservatives within both parties watering it down. Meanwhile, under Eisenhower's administration, we got piss-ass civil rights legislation.

The issue is really more about which ideology (as opposed to party) supported these Acts. Liberals within both parties did, conservatives within both parties didn't. Give credit where due. For conservative Republicans to act as though they played a role is disingenuous, since they and their segregationist Democratic counterparts tried to block it big time.

Sharpton was claiming that Democrats have more of a right to the Democratic vote, so it's not about general ideology but is about party. That's how he set up the issue. Bush was asking black voters to consider the Republican party, and Sharpton was acting as if the Democrats' role in the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 is what bought off the black vote in a way that it can't be bought off again.

As for the Democratic president thing, I mentioned that as a slimy interpretation of his words. In looking at it again, I will say that that way of fostering ignorance of history does seem to be his intent. So rather than asserting false statements, he's simply ignoring the more complicated nature of the situation. I'm not sure which is worse. The second kind of deception is a bit more devious.

If we're talking about why Democrats earned the black vote, then we need to talk about why the existence of larger numbers of segregationist Democrats than Republicans didn't lead to the perception about Democrats that Republicans now get. A Democratic president led a contingent, mostly of Republicans but of a large enough number of Democrats. And why does that count as a legitimate reason to choose the donkey with absolutely no chance of the elephant turning out to be better for black people? I still maintain that he doesn't see the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 as his primary reason for favoring Democrats. It's about the large welfare dole that more harmed than helped black communities, but he sees it as necessary reparations without wanting to admit it, because that would lessen his claims of not getting the 40 acres and a mule.

If he had really wanted to be fair to history, he would have noted that both parties had a large contingent supporting the Civil Rights Acts and that both had a large contingent opposing them. It turned out that a Democratic president and a larger contingent of Republicans than Democrats worked hard to get them passed. Where they went from there isn't along the lines of Republicans opposing civil rights and Democrats affirming them but at best of Republicans and Democrats differing on what counts as a civil right and on which programs would be beneficial and which would be harmful. Bush has argued that on some of those issues Republicans have the better argument, and I think he's right. The ones they don't are the ones he'd say the Republican party has a ways to go on.

When you compare it to the harm of the policies the Democrats have enacted, I see no comparison. The current Republican president wants to see blacks transform the Republican party to be what it would have been had the black vote not been bought off by Democratic reparations and been used with little long-term benefit and much long-term harm. I see that as a good reason to do exactly what Sharpton refuses to do, and his reasons for that are so bad that it's led to this long criticism of his speech.

The problem is, the Elephant lets the Jackass define the Elephant to the Black community. It's just as disingenuous for the Republican party to refer to itself as "The Party of Lincoln" as if Goldwater never happened as it is for Democrats to act like they invented Civil Rights.

"Is all lies and false prop-a-ganda to support this antag-o-NIS-tic and vi-o-lent government!" - (c) Nicoli Koloff (Ivan Drago's spokesman)

Now that's a point I consider fair. Bush did acknowledge that the Republican party has its problems, but I think he should have apologized for some of the more glaring ones of the past.

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