Sharpton took the Florida myth and wove it into the larger story about civil rights and the Democratic Party. Democrats can be proud of their early record on civil rights to be sure. But while dismissing the party of Lincoln because ?we never got the 40 acres; we never got the mule,? Sharpton sneaked in another myth. We?re sticking with the donkey, he thundered, because ?we got the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act under Democrats.?
Whoa. Lyndon Johnson was the president who pushed through those laws, but he couldn?t have done it without Republican votes. According to Congressional Quarterly, only 61 percent of Democrats in the House of Representatives supported the Civil Rights Act, while 80 percent of Republicans voted in favor. In the Senate, 69 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans voted in favor.
In his speech to the Urban League, President Bush challenged black voters to rethink their reflexive allegiance to the Democratic Party. This the Democrats cannot allow. If African-Americans cease to give huge majorities of their votes to Democrats, the Democrats will never win another big election.
Democrats could pitch their case to African Americans on many issues -- affirmative action, poverty programs, education. But year after year, they choose the cheap and disreputable approach of suggesting that Republicans are racists, that civil rights and voting rights are in peril, and that only the Democratic Party stands between us and a return to Jim Crow.
That?s why Kerry chose to feature the Rev. Al at his convention. The bloody shirt must be waved, and the Brooklyn race provocateur (ordained at age 10) does it so well. From the point of view of leading Democrats, Sharpton may be a monumental liar (he has never apologized to the policeman he and Brawley slandered), a fomenter of race riots and an anti-Semite, but he keeps African-American fears alive -- and that makes him a Democratic star.