The beating heart of the Democratic Party was on display when Al Sharpton addressed the national convention. Sure, other speakers received enthusiastic ovations. But Sharpton got something more. There was rapture in the hall as he delivered (shouted?) his address.
Some wonder why Sharpton was invited to address the convention at all. Unlike Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, he did not arrive with a slate of delegates pledged to him. Further, John Kerry has more reason to shun Sharpton than either Mondale or Dukakis had to distance themselves from Jackson. For all his faults, Jackson did not carry the stigma of having perpetrated a massive hoax like the Tawana Brawley accusations. Nor was Jackson guilty of race-baiting to the point of encouraging a riot, as Sharpton was. So why didn?t John Kerry refuse him a prominent speaking role (as he denied one to his old boss Michael Dukakis)?
The answer is that the Democratic Party secures its base these days through a series of fables. The most potent of these is the Florida fable. It goes as follows: The 2000 election was stolen because George W. Bush, in concert with Jeb Bush, the election officials of the state of Florida and a compliant United States Supreme Court, conspired to simply ?throw out? the votes of African-Americans. Overwhelming majorities of African-Americans (85 percent in one poll) believe this.
But it?s an invention. As John Lott reminds us, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission began investigating charges of voter disenfranchisement in 2001. They investigated every tale of roadblocks, intimidation and registration anomalies. They found not a single African American who had been harassed, intimidated or prevented from voting at any polling place in Florida (though you?d have to read the minority report to learn this, since Mary Frances Berry, a partisan Democrat, is the chairman of the commission).
There was an attempt to prevent felons from voting, and the list Florida officials generated was in error in some cases. But a plot to prevent African Americans from voting? Hardly. Twice as many white voters as black were erroneously placed on the felon list.
In any case, two-thirds more African Americans voted in 2000 than in 1996. Though blacks represented 13 percent of Florida?s population, they accounted for 15 percent of the total vote. That is disenfranchisement? No, the ?Florida was stolen? myth was cooked up by Al Gore to cloak his naked power grab in distinguished civil rights garments.