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National Public Radio Tavis Smiley Show Transcript

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National Public Radio (NPR) January 31, 2003 Friday
Copyright 2003 National Public Radio (R).
SHOW: Tavis Smiley (9:00 AM ET) - NPR

HEADLINE: Reverend Al Sharpton discusses his campaign for president of the United States in 2004

TAVIS SMILEY, host: From NPR in Los Angeles, I'm Tavis Smiley. We conclude our weeklong series of conversations with announced candidates for president with the one and only Reverend Al Sharpton, founder of the Harlem-based National Action Network. I began by asking Reverend Al as well how the United States could avoid a war with Iraq.

Reverend AL SHARPTON (Presidential Candidate): I think that the present administration is bent on war. There has been no, in my judgment, evidence presented there has been any weapons of mass destruction. So what are we going to war on? Are we going to war based on now, we're told that there's some evidence that Secretary Powell will present to the UN next week that ties them to the al-Qaeda? Well, then why didn't the president present that the other night to the American people? Why didn't he present it to the American Congress? I think that we've seen no basis to go forward with a war, and we should resist it and resist it aggressively. SMILEY: How are you going to respond to folk on the campaign trail when they ask what qualifies you to be the commander in chief, given that you've not served in the country's military?

Rev. SHARPTON: I think that just because one serves in the military does not make one a competent commander in chief. I think that the commander in chief must be one that has vision and that knows when and where to use armed forces and when and where not to use them. But secondly, I think you need a president, particularly in these times, where we are dealing with everyone around the world at the verge of some kind of violent confrontation that has an orientation against militarism, not for militarism. So I think that that ought to be a quality that is appealing to voters rather than one who has trained war first rather than a rational and a meaningful dialogue first.

SMILEY: Let me move, Reverend Al, from talking about the potential war with Iraq to the economy, another important issue these days. Interest rates are at historic lows, and the economy just keeps on sputtering. What's the Sharpton plan for reviving the economy?

Rev. SHARPTON: I would propose Felix Rohatyn's plan, a New York economist, who said let's invest $250 billion over a five-year period, $50 billion a year added to the federal deficit, which is the only deficit by law you can add to, that would create jobs to rebuild and redevelop the infrastructure--roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, school buildings. Secondly, we should develop a national railway system that would connect major cities around this country with a modern railway system. If they can do it in Europe and they don't have our kind of money, why don't we have a railway system in the United States that's up to date and that is high speed, that creates jobs and is necessary?

Thirdly, I would rebuild the ports. What is more important to homeland security than the actual seaports in major cities? Many of them are in decay, so while we are planning to fight the war on terrorism on certain fronts, we are vulnerable in our seaports. They need to be updated and upgraded in terms of infrastructure, and they create jobs. So I think that the Sharpton plan would create jobs where they're necessary. Those income-producing jobs would become taxpayers. It would pay off the deficit. It would increase consumer activity. It's certainly more viable than giving the rich a tax cut, hoping it will eventually trickle down, when we've never seen the trickle-down theory work. In fact, George Bush's daddy said when Reagan proposed that, it was voodoo economics. It was voodoo economics then. It's hoodoo-voodoo economics now.

SMILEY: Religious leaders, Reverend Al, as you well know, frequently have the charisma and the ability to inspire people, two qualities that I note are necessary to build a winning campaign. I guess the question is whether or not, as a religious leader, you are prepared to make the kinds of tradeoffs, the kinds of compromises that might be necessary down the road to succeed in national politics.

Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I think that what you must do is you must always reach consensus, and I don't believe you have to sell out your moral convictions in order to do that. I think that you have the ability to stand on principle; yet be able to work with others that you may disagree with or that may have a different religious persuasion or no religious persuasion at all, and that you must deal with the whole question of policy trade in order to achieve a greater good. I think the greatest politician in African-American history was a minister, named Adam Clayton Powell. I think I can show in white and Latino community people that have been equally effective that were religious.

SMILEY: Even when Jesse Jackson was leading in his runs for the presidency, people boxed Jesse into the role of being a kingmaker; that is to say, someone who could not win the nomination but could do well enough to have input about the final choice. I wonder whether you're concerned about being boxed into that same kind of role as kingmaker?

Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I think that there's the potential to try and do that, and we certainly will resist it, and the way to resist it is to get enough votes to win the primaries and go forward and be successful. But let me say this. You know, you will read all of this stuff about 'Sharpton can't win.' I'll tell you a secret. So far, there's six people running. Five of them won't win. I'm not the only one that may lose. Any one of us may lose. There's only going to be one of us that end up winning.

SMILEY: Right.

Rev. SHARPTON: The question is, who represents you and who can you gain the most from, whether they win or lose? When Jesse ran, he didn't win the White House but we won a lot of other things, including we were able to change the debate, we were able to elect other people to office, we were able to change the US Senate in '86. So in losing, we gained more with Jackson than we did with losing with anyone else that we were just betting on if they won. So I hate to break people's illusion, but there will not be five winners and just Sharpton losing. There will be five losers. Hopefully, I'll be the one winner.

SMILEY: All right. Let me ask, then, on your way to winning the Democratic nomination, who do you see as your core constituency during the primary and what are the issues that they are concerned about?

Rev. SHARPTON: I think my core constituency will be those that are against this war and those that are for a public economy that is built on job creation and not giving tax breaks and deregulation to big business, and I think those that believe in public education, that do not believe in going into privatization, whether that be through vouchers or other schemes. And I think that it is clear the Democratic Leadership Council has moved the Democratic Party to the right on many of the issues. Many of the candidates in this race come out of that DLC matrix. This will be a showdown for the direction of the Democratic Party. In many ways, I don't think you could have had a better contrast between me and some of my opponents on which way this party will go forward into the 21st century. When I was growing up, you knew what a Democrat stood for. Now you have too many Democrats that are nothing but elephants walking around with donkey clothes on.

SMILEY: Any thought to the kind of running mate you might select if you are, in fact, the eventual Democratic nominee?

Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I would have a running mate that shared in my general vision and shared in my views and that has a track record to show that they are sincere about that. And I would not look for a particular sex or race or anything like that. It's vision. You must have shared vision, one that is bonded with me in terms of where they want to see the country going.

SMILEY: Run, Al, run. Al Sharpton is a candidate for president of the United States. He joined us today from our bureau in New York City. As always, Reverend Al, always nice to talk to you.

Rev. SHARPTON: Thank you.

SMILEY: Coming up, a dramatic commemoration of the 140th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. And our regular commentator Connie Rice takes on the new Republican interest in diversity on Capitol Hill. It's 29 minutes past the hour.

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