Kathleen Parker

Al Sharpton's desperation is showing.

His recent attacks on presidential candidate Barack Obama and his threat to withhold his support have exposed the trick behind Sharpton's magic act. His audience is leaving the tent and Sharpton is scrambling for relevancy.

Sharpton has been challenging Obama's credentials in the black community and saying that Obama is the darling of white leadership, according to Democratic sources.

Sharpton told CBS News that he is withholding his endorsement until after his National Action Network summit next month. Meanwhile, he's playing hard to get between the Obama and Hillary Clinton camps, even declining to return calls from Obama's campaign.

Now, it is fair to ask, what is Sharpton really up to? What is his real objection to Obama? That Obama has white supporters? That Obama has become the first serious black presidential candidate in U.S. history? That he lacks the civil rights bona fides that Sharpton claims for himself?

Or is the real problem that Obama's biracial appeal has trumped Sharpton's race card?

For the past few decades, black votes have been promised and delivered by brokers like Sharpton. This isn't shocking in itself. Everybody does it. On the Republican side, certain individuals also promise to deliver certain votes. Evangelicals, for instance. It's the business of politics.

Sometimes, as in Sharpton's case, a vote broker will run for office himself. He knows he can't win, but he can raise enough money to run and to collect federal matching funds.

Such a candidate can live for a while in a style to which he would like to become accustomed. Limos, bodyguards, room service.

In 2004, when Sharpton ran for president, he ran up the highest average hotel bills of any candidate, with an average stay at the Four Seasons running at a whopping $3,598, according to Fundrace.org, a Web site that tracked campaign expenditures.

What happens when the money runs out and the campaign isn't doing so well? Ah. The constituency, so carefully cultivated, gets bartered. For a fair trade and a few perks: My votes are your votes.

Obama presents a particular problem for the Sharptons of the world because he doesn't need their help getting the black vote. Obama has mass appeal to both races. What happens to someone like Sharpton when his services are no longer needed?

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, perhaps. What we're witnessing now may be a variation on the psychiatric disorder -- a new twist in psycho-politics. Munchausen is usually associated with mothers who fabricate diseases or harm their children so that they can then tend to them and make them well.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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