Moseley-Braun and the Game to Contain Sharpton





Carolyn Moseley-Braun is doing someone a favor, but it's not Black Democrats. The former Senator from Illinois is transparently allowing herself to be used to diminish, somehow, the impact of Rev. Al Sharpton's candidacy for President. Since she cannot possibly "stop" Sharpton, the actual purpose and potential effect of her primary run can only be to dilute the impact of the Black vote, itself.

If Moseley-Braun hasn't consciously taken on the role of spoiler, then she is whimsical in the extreme - far too flighty to be taken seriously. However, we know that Chicago politicians are not made that way.

The chain of events is easy to follow. In late December, Moseley-Braun was dreaming of retaking the Senate seat that she captured in 1992 and held for one six-year term. According to the December 22 Washington Post, Braun confirmed that she had had a meeting with Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle concerning her ambitions. She also told reporters that unnamed parties had "encouraged" her to attempt to take back her old seat from Republican Peter Fitzgerald.

The 1992 race cost $6.7 million, and a 2004 bid would be several times as expensive.

What is absolutely clear is that Daschle gave Moseley-Braun no encouragement for her costly and problematical Senate rematch - a race that would likely hurt the party's chances to regain control of the body. Instead, somebody offered Moseley-Braun another assignment for the "good of the party" - one for which no white person is qualified and few Blacks are foolish enough to accept: stop Sharpton.

All this happened rather quickly, and Moseley-Braun still hasn't found her balance. At first, she claimed that, upon deeper introspection, she realized that a return to the Senate "would have been going backward." This is a bad enough joke to get Moseley-Braun permanently banned from anybody's stage. She left the Senate in 1998 under a personal and political cloud. Re-election would be like rebirth - but the Democratic powers-that-spend weren't buying that scenario.

Their problem is quite delicate, needing a Black woman's touch. No white candidate can figure out how to lay a glove on Sharpton. On the surface, this appears to be a kind of racial cowardice. However, on further examination, the monied, mildly "liberal" candidates - Rep. Dick Gephardt, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. John Edwards - would find it very difficult to engage Sharpton on a substantive policy level. The Black New York social activist has taken clear and crisply correct progressive positions on a wide range of issues. It takes more than mush to confront Sharpton, and the "lite" list of Democratic candidates cannot help but equivocate in every sentence they utter.

The dreadful and wholly unacceptable Sen. Joe Lieberman looks always to his Right, like a storm trooper passing by his Leader's stage. This Republican in-all-but-name appeals to voters like himself, constantly contorting his social agenda in order to escape the racist label. (We at will do our best to make it stick.) Lieberman has no interest in tussling with Sharpton.

The progressive and firmly anti-war white candidates - Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean - should have no quarrel with Sharpton on the issues. Both would be more than happy to be the one white progressive standing when the smoke clears.

No Democrat has a good reason to fight with Al Sharpton. The best that the "lites" can do is create racial "space" between themselves and Sharpton by setting up an "alternative" Black primary-runner. All she has to do is move her lips and stay Black. Sharpton's positions on jobs, health care, criminal justice, war, etc., are established elements of the Black Agenda. There is no imperative for Moseley-Braun to offer anything different in the way of policy. She is, purely and simply, the "I'm not Al" candidate.

Blacks at the Democratic National Committee encouraged Moseley-Braun. Donna Brazile, chair of the DNC's Voting Rights Institute, has acknowledged as much. Brazile told the Washington Post's Terry Neal it was "ridiculous for anyone to suggest the Democratic Party should have only one black candidate, given African Americans' loyalty to the party."

Certainly, no one can deny the right of every African American to aspire to the highest office in the land. And, if the prospect of "going backward" to the Senate suddenly offends Carolyn Moseley-Braun, we must respect her sensibilities. The operative question, however, is not why an individual desires to become President, but why others decide to support him or her. Ms. Brazile and other Blacks in the DNC orbit derive no influence from the Sharpton campaign. Moseley-Braun's candidacy is as much their creation as it is a racial buffer for the presidential front-runners whom Brazile and her colleagues hope to influence when the primaries are over.

The prospect of victory is only one serious reason to run for office. Moving the debate in a desired political direction is equally as serious and honorable a motivation. Rev. Al Sharpton is a serious candidate who vigorously argues issues and attempts to mobilize a core constituency: Black voters. At bottom, Carolyn Moseley-Braun is not a candidate at all, but a board piece in a game of positioning played by rich, "lite" white candidates and Blacks connected to the institutional Democratic Party.

In her formal "exploratory" announcement this week, Moseley-Braun said she's not a "Black" candidate competing with Sharpton, but the "women's" candidate in an all-male field. If you believe that, then vote for her.

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Issue Number 30
February 20, 2003

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Other commentaries in this issue:

Why African Americans Should Oppose The War By Dr. Sonja Ebron

The Issues
Massive affirmative action endorsements... War to defend the almighty dollar... Who owns the streets?

Inside Crazy George’s head... Powell as war criminal: 1968, 2003... The Cave Man calleth

from the Marble Jungle
Testing Head Start to Death by Mark S. Johnson-Lewis

Commentaries in Issue 29 February 13, 2003:

Osama is Calling…

Toward a Black Democratic primary... More faith-based foolery... A benediction for

The Issues
Blacks favor peace, whites opt for war... Affirmative action's heavy-hitter allies... Shoving vouchers down DC's throat

Behind from the Start: Black kids begin school disadvantaged

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