Two men of the cloth
A few years ago, two youngish men in the same business shared an epiphany. In their living rooms a thousand miles apart, they sat and stared at the television. Scrunching up their faces and furrowing their brows, they thought long and hard, straining to formulate a sound bite worthy of the six o'clock news. Suddenly, their screens were suffused with an eldritch glow, a pale yellow haze. A face emerged. It belonged to Hyman Roth, from The Godfather: "Listen, this race—baiting rabble—rouser stuff is small potatoes. You want to be a real pezzonovante, you need issues. Issues..." The voice trailed off; the apparition dissolved into the more sinister countenance of Dan Rather, but the words resonated in the brains of the two men.
David Duke promptly went out and bought some new threads. He spent more hard cash on a haircut than he ever dreamed possible. Announcing his re—baptism as a Republican, he forced himself to say things that genuine conservatives could listen to without wincing. He affected the thin—lipped smile and ironic pose favored by prominent homosexuals, but it was all no good. Bush the elder told him to take a hike. And the media were just brutal, mussing up the blow—dried hair and sadistically ripping open the Armani suits to expose the white robes underneath.
Far away in the Big Apple, things went swimmingly for the Reverend Al Sharpton, which was funny because he didn't try nearly as hard. Oh, he made cosmetic improvements, ditching the medallion and the running suit, but the fastidiousness of his resolve never ever to disappoint his constituency — blacks who don't like whites — struck some earnest liberals as frustrating. Bolder ones whispered that it was downright ungrateful. Sharpton stubbornly refused to hide his true feelings, he made them gloriously unambiguous — regarding white people in general and Jews in particular. He insolently insisted on co—opting the people who were trying to co—opt him, offering them precisely nothing in return for their prodigious efforts to transform him into a silk purse. Utterly charmed, the Democratic Party embraced him and the media solicited his opinions on a comically implausible range of subjects. Although David was doomed to remain mired in the fever swamps, Reverend Al did a cannonball into the bracing waters of the mainstream.
As parables go, this one is not terribly edifying. It almost qualifies as an anti—parable. So, what are we to make of prospective candidates for the office of Mayor of New York City?
They appear before Reverend Sharpton (he has, unsurprisingly, never had a real congregation) as supplicants. They make pilgrimages to Harlem at his bidding, jump through flaming hoops, and plant kisses on his ample rump. In this respect, they are no different from Al Gore and Bill Bradley, who once aspired to the highest office in the land, or Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose aspirations call to mind the fisherman's wife in the Grimm brothers' fairy tale. But the man to whom they abase themselves has espoused over his career as a sort of political Paris Hilton exactly one cause (subsumed under the broad heading of self—aggrandizement): implacable hostility to the police.
To Sharpton, the cops are the bad guys. Always. Their motives, proceeding from nothing less than racism, are tainted and accordingly, they can never be granted the benefit of any doubt. To protect the black community, they need to be reined—in, hamstrung. Call it the Sharpton Doctrine, endorsed in 2001 by then—Bronx Borough President, Freddy Ferrer, who ran for mayor that year as the Anti—Giuliani, and who runs this time around on his implacable opposition to the Iraq War. Rudy, conventional wisdom holds, is regarded as a devil figure among minorities owing to his empowerment of the police.
Let us attempt to rise above ideology for a moment and allow our attention to be arrested (pun intended) by some extraordinary data. In 1991, during David Dinkins's mayoralty, over twenty two hundred murders were committed in the city. Under Giuliani, the yearly toll dropped to six hundred. Under Michael Bloomberg's stewardship, the murder rate has dropped still further, to levels not seen since the 'fifties. Overwhelmingly, the lives saved have been black and Hispanic. Now, if the Sharpton Doctrine ever comes to govern law enforcement, the result — the absolutely inevitable result — will be the loss of thousands of lives. Do the Democrats currently braying about racial profiling understand the consequences of reducing police efficiency? Will the Democrat who ultimately, probably fours years hence, gets to preside over the carnage accept any responsibility for it? The answers are, Yes and No.
Jailed over an issue that meant absolutely nothing to him (the Navy's artillery range at Vieques, Puerto Rico) apart from its usefulness in creating an overtly anti—white coalition of blacks and Hispanics, Sharpton celebrated his release by running for President. He got very few votes, but somehow, year after year, he manages to persuade the national Democratic Party that he can deliver the black vote en bloc. I could, by similar logic, claim to deliver high humidity on a sweltering July day. Why do they fall for it? Why do the Democrats indulge a man whose perspective is, after all, simply racist?
No mystery here: it's free. There is no downside. Last election, like every other election, the Democratic Party suffered no consequences for its egregious race—baiting. Republicans, by contrast, walk on eggshells, terrified of being called racists by people who a) call them racists anyway and b) are racists themselves. The embarrassing Conyers report on the long lines at certain Ohio precincts completely ignored even longer lines in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago for the simple reason that the Democratic candidate won those states. Such selective indignation for tawdry partisan purposes inflames tensions by spawning a new generation of urban myths, as witness the wild, baseless tales circulated by loony—left bloggers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
A Republican candidate for anything could strike a blow for reason and comity by declaring that truckling to Al Sharpton, New York City's premier racial polarizer, constitutes a disqualification for public office. A principled Democrat could do the same, but such an oxymoronic Democrat would risk alienating his party's lunatic base. How about a mainstream journalist doing some old—fashioned reporting and taking a hard look at the street hustler who hijacked the party of Franklin Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, and the more sober Kennedys?
The utter implausibility of any of the scenarios occurring is both a sign and a cause of our national sickness in the realm of race relations.