December 23, 2003 Tuesday
HEADLINE: Al Sharpton discusses his candidacy for Democratic presidential nominee
ANCHORS: ROBERT SIEGEL; MELISSA BLOCK
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Over the past few months, we've been interviewing the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, and we conclude today with Reverend Al Sharpton. At 49, Sharpton's the youngest candidate. He's a longtime civil rights activist from New York. He's led many protests against police brutality and racial injustice, and his inflammatory language over the years has led to accusations that he's a racial polarizer. Sharpton ran twice for the US Senate, once for New York City mayor. He was an ordained minister by the age of 10. And it's safe to say he's the only candidate who's been stabbed, jailed for civil disobedience, and found liable for defamation.
He's also the only candidate to host "Saturday Night Live," where this month, he did a fleet-footed gravelly imitation of the man he served as road manager in the 1970s, James Brown.
(Soundbite of "Saturday Night Live")
Reverend AL SHARPTON (Democrat, Presidential Candidate): Hit it! (Singing) I feel good. I knew that I would. I feel good. I knew that I would. Hey! So good! So good! I've got you! Wow! I feel nice.
BLOCK: And Al Sharpton joins us from our New York bureau.
Thanks for being with us.
Rev. SHARPTON: Thank you.
BLOCK: I'd like to ask you first about Iraq. You've been very outspoken against the war there, and against keeping US troops in Iraq. I wonder, given the capture of Saddam Hussein, do you see that there was, in fact, some benefit to that military operation? Regardless of whether weapons of mass destruction are found, do you agree that this is at least a positive result?
Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I think that we cannot dismiss the fact that weapons of mass destruction was the premise that we went to war on. Having said that, I am not an apologist for Saddam Hussein. I think that it is probably better that he was captured than not, but I don't think that even the good that comes out of it justifies the deception that was the basis of the war and the basis of the human lives that were lost.
BLOCK: What's your idea of how the US military should disengage from Iraq?
Rev. SHARPTON: I think we must submit to the United Nations or an international body and do it in a very affirmative way, saying that we will become partners with the world community toward redevelopment. And I think on that basis, the world would be more inclined to come in, and then we can disengage our military. I think what has thwarted that has been our contention that the world must support us. And I think the resistance has been that the world does not want to rubber-stamp the American dominion over that area.
BLOCK: I'd like to turn to the economy for a bit. The numbers recently have showed some promising signs. Productivity is up. Job numbers are starting to pick up. What's wrong with that picture? I'm assuming you see, not the silver lining, but the cloud there.
Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I think that the jobs that we're seeing picked up are basically temporary jobs, many of them low-wage jobs. And there's no sign that that is going to be a definite trend that continues. The other thing I think, you have to see it in the context that we've lost three million jobs since Bush took office. And though we're seeing some jobs possibly being picked up, it's nowhere near approaching what was lost. And those policies are in place that I think will not make a significant dent in terms of the three million lost without significant change in economic policy.
BLOCK: You've run for office three times before in New York, haven't been elected, but you've run three times. The job of president obviously requires skills like conciliation and compromise, and those are not necessarily words that people would associate with Al Sharpton. They'd say you're a very passionate advocate, you're an exceptional speaker, but you're not known as a deal-maker. Do you see that there's a contradiction there in what you're going for and what you're known for?
Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I think that the opposite is true. If anyone would analyze my career and the fact that I've been able to give leadership to various civil rights causes, we've always had to deal with compromise and making arrangements with others that may have been adversarial. So I would challenge anyone in this race to show where they have been more able to do that without having an official government job. I've been able, as a private citizen, to do more than most of them have been able to do holding elective office.
BLOCK: Sometimes the strategy, I guess, involves, though, picketing, getting arrested for civil disobedience. Is that in place of deal-making, or is that alongside of it?
Rev. SHARPTON: Sometimes, civil disobedience and protest sets the stage where deal-making can occur. If you did not have the protest, if you did not have the movements, deal-makers could not even get in the rooms. Someone must create the climate where others want to come to the table to make an arrangement.
BLOCK: You've talked about one of your goals for this race being a big voter mobilization drive, trying to get blacks to register to vote in large numbers, maybe influence local elections, state elections. Would that be a satisfactory result for you?
Rev. SHARPTON: In part. I think that we want to see next year to have a very significant increase in voter registration and voter turnout that could impact state and county and municipal elections around the country. I think that without that expansion of the electorate, we will not, as a party, have a realistic opportunity to defeat George Bush. I think if you go back on the playing field with the same team, you're going to get the same results.
BLOCK: Looking ahead to the general election next November, and if we can hypothesize that you are not the nominee-I'm sure that's not an assumption you want to make, but let's assume that for the sake of argument-is there another Democratic candidate, do you think, that would energize the black vote and get that result that you're hoping for?
Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I mean, I have said that if I am not the nominee, and I certainly intend to be, and will do all I can to be, I think whoever the nominee would be, if it is not me, would have to deal with issues and with a strategy and tactics that would energize that base. I think that the problem we've had is for the last several elections, the party has been dominated by those that want to run away from those issues. And I think that has turned off a lot of potential new voters that could be the swing vote toward victory.
BLOCK: I want to turn and ask you about the Tawana Brawley case. This is the black 15-year-old girl who claimed that she was abducted and raped by a gang of white men, including law enforcement officers back in 1987. A grand jury investigated that claim. They found substantial evidence to conclude that what she was saying was a hoax, a fabrication, and a jury later found you liable for defamation for falsely accusing an assistant district attorney of being part of this alleged crime. I know you've said that you still stand by Tawana Brawley, and you won't apologize for what you've said over the years. Is there anything that has changed in your views about that case, or are you as convinced of Tawana Brawley's representation of what happened now as you were back then?
Rev. SHARPTON: I think Tawana Brawley was violated. Ms. Brawley made accusations that her lawyers, myself and many others believed and we stood by and continue to stand by. And I have not heard anything that has discredited that to me.
BLOCK: Reverend Sharpton, thanks very much.
Rev. SHARPTON: Thank you.
BLOCK: Reverend Al Sharpton, candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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