Hot house flowers

Posted: Oct 27, 2003 12:00 AM

When I travel around the country, people consistently ask me why they aren't hearing more about Rev. Al Sharpton's and Carol Mosley Braun's bid for the presidency. Often they lean forward and whisper, "Is it racism?"

"No, they're not running actual campaigns!" I respond.

Sharpton is the quintessential New York style populist. He's made a living standing outside the political mainstream and pumping his fists in righteous indignation. Now that he's actually trying to join the fold, he's finding out how complex the system is, and how ill-equipped he is to thrive in it.

For starters, Sharpton and Braun have no infrastructure set up in the primary states to coordinate volunteers or to raise the money they need to qualify for matching federal funds. In fact, a recent New York Post article detailed how poorly Sharpton did raising funds in Manhattan's swanky upper east side (The G-spot of political donations). According to the article,  John Kerry corralled $322,125 from the 10021 area code. Senator Joseph Lieberman pulled in $200,430. Ex Governor Howard Dean got $182,809. By contrast, Al Sharpton netted a mere $500.

Surely it doesn't help that Sharpton is yet to announce any serious proposals for homeland security, the economy, healthcare, etc. Gephardt, Kerry, Howard Dean, Gen. Wesley Clark's have all been hard at work addressing the issues that Americans care about most. You don't see that coming from the Sharpton campaign. He's a hot house flower. He exists only during the debates. Outside of that environment, he withers.

Somehow, this point seems lost on Sharpton, who continues to fancy himself as a second coming of Jesse Jackson. But in order for him to be credible like Jackson in 84 and 88, he needs to establish a strong presence on the ground. He needs to employ people who know how to get him on the ballot, people who know how to raise money so he can qualify for matching funds. Until then, he will remain an insular northeastern, New York style politician with a controversial history and a track record of voting Republican (He's endorsed Republicans for most of his career). 

Braun offers the historical legacy of having become the first female American Black Senator. That alone is quite a feat. Just one thing: In her six years in the senate Braun essentially failed to produce any worthwhile legislation, and lost her last election bid after allegations surfaced that she misappropriated campaign donations to fund personal trips to Nigeria. So far, Braun 's only significant policy announcement has been a call for universal healthcare.

Together, Sharpton and Braun have managed to raise so little money its laughable. At the same time, they've produced no coherent plan to help the American people. When young children see Sharpton on  TV and they ask their parents how they can be a part of the campaign, they find out quickly that there is no mechanism for them to help, because there is no real campaign. The election bid is a farce. It's not about making American better (where's the plan to do that?), it's about self aggrandizement for two people whose collective ego is the size of Tahoe.

The question shouldn't be, why isn't Sharpton getting more attention? The real question should be, is this the best the blacks in the Democratic Party have to offer? If so, it is a sad indictment of the party.

Which brings us to Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-CL). Hardly anyone knows his name. Fewer can spell it . So let me recap: In 1979, then Mayor Kucinich led Cleveland into bankruptcy, making it the first state to default on its bank notes since the Great Depression. Now he wants to do the same for the country. He's called for more social spending then we could ever do in a lifetime. At least Sharpton manages to get a few percentage points in the polls. Kucinich is a walking asterisk. His most famous proposal is to create a Department of Peace (Note to Kucinich: we're in the middle of a war on terrorism). Just another hot house flower.

Perhaps the reason the Democrats aren't being heard is that they're speaking with too many mouths. It's time for some of them to go.