February 02, 2004
Agreeing with Al Sharpton

I did something last night which I very rarely do—I watched TV. AFN News was broadcasting CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, and one of the people he interviewed was Al Sharpton. I was startled to find myself in agreement with one of Al Sharpton's answers.

Blitzer questioned Sharpton about this New York Times editorial on the primaries, which contained this paragraph:

Representative Dennis Kucinich has every right to keep campaigning despite his minuscule vote tallies, but he should not be allowed to take up time in future candidate debates. Neither should the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is running to continue running, not to win. Sponsors should also consider whether Senator Joseph Lieberman will continue to be a credible candidate. Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Clark both skipped Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire, without making much of a dent. But Mr. Clark's supporters have a right to hope that his candidacy will improve with experience. Since Senator Lieberman has already run for vice president, he appears to have hit his ceiling.

Sharpton was justifiably upset by the editorial. He took the Times to task for assuming to know his mind (which is excusable), but really laid in to them by pointing out that neither Iowa nor New Hampshire is demographically representative of the rest of the country. Both states are overwhelmingly white (Iowa 94% white, New Hampshire 97% white) and have a large proportion of rural votes (Iowa's capital and largest city, Des Moines, has fewer than 200,000 people). Sharpton is relying on urban blacks to give his campaign momentum, and by excluding him from debates based on the results of only two states, the NYT is in effect advocating the disenfranchisement of his supporters before their candidate even gets a chance to start.

While I don't think that the bottom tier of candidates have a chance (and I wouldn't ever consider voting for either of them), I do not think they should be blocked from the debates. They should be allowed to air their views, just as minor party candidates should be allowed to participate in the debates later this year. Barring them from the debates (especially the primaries, which may be used to shape the [party's platform) is in effect dictating who is and who is not an acceptable candidate. It's fundamentally un-democratic, and it's wrong.

posted on February 02, 2004 02:40 AM


I agree with you on the general election, but not on the primaries. The parties have the right to nominate whomever they wish. It seems to me that the public gets more involved in the party's nomination process than is healthy for our democracy. There is no mention of parties in the constitution, and it is hard for me to understand why we have to publicly finance primary elections at all, since these are held merely for the convenience of the parties, to help them to pick their nominees.

Since the early debates are held merely for the convenience the parties, the parties should be allowed to expose their pretenders to the nomination however they wish.

Those who are running in the presidential election, however, should all have unrestricted access to public debates, without regard for the popularity of their parties. Recently Jesse Ventura and others have won election from third parties. Earlier in our history, presidential candidates from third parties have won. But the appearance of Dennis Kucinich or Al Sharpton in a primary debate should be the democrats' call.

posted by Michael Gersh on February 3, 2004 08:55 AM

But the appearance of Dennis Kucinich or Al Sharpton in a primary debate should be the democrats' call.

I'll agree to that, but it's not the role of the New York Times to advocate who is and who is not an acceptable candidate.

The rest of your argument is unimpeachable; I hadn't thought of that at all.

posted by timekeeper on February 3, 2004 11:18 PM

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