Politics Mondays: E-Letter To The Washington Times Re: "Sharpton's Tax Cuts"
Your editorial, Sharpton's Tax Cuts", provides more evidence of the potential paradigm-shifting power of Rev. Al Sharpton's 2004 presidential campaign. It also shows the immense political sagacity of the Harlem preacher-politician.
As I have been writing about, and to, Rev. Sharpton for the past nine months, he will have to run a campaign that allows him to run to the left and right of his political opponents, simultaneously, if he is to be successful. But this "left" and "right" should not just be understood in terms of political ideology and the political spectrum, but also in terms of the complex maze of indigenous institutions and cultural sentiments that reside in the Black community. No political party or ideology adequately encompasses the spirit and diversity of the Black community. And as a result, I have long maintained that no Black politician will go very far in electrifying the broad Black community by simply following the traditional and standard campaign strategies approved of by any political party - major or independent. There are just too many nuances to the Black community - in art, business, and religion, for example - for any of the major political ideologies and partisan platforms to adequately handle and seek to address. What you write about demonstrates Rev. Sharpton's superiror sensitivity to these dynamics.
In a February 24, 2003 letter of advice to Rev. Sharpton, I wrote that Rev. Sharpton would be making a mistake if he excessively sought to position himself as what I call, a "progressive partisan" candidate. Although doing so would provide Rev. Sharpton with a ready made network and potential appeal to White voters; the box is too narrow for his mind, and is not a credible market position for a Black Christian preacher, with an overwhelmingly Black base, who has spent the majority of his life speaking before Black audiences. You should read the entire letter of advice to the Reverend, but a salient point that I placed emphasis upon, in what I wrote, is that Rev. Sharpton's greatest chance for success rests in his being viewed in the political marketplace as an "activist-prophet," and as an "outsider." Our consistent coverage of the Sharpton-For-President campaign at BlackElectorate.com shows that whenever and wherever Rev. Sharpton assumes the role of the "activist-prophet," fighting for justice and speaking as a Black pastor from the Word of God, he is enormously well-received by a growing core of Black supporters. Interestingly, local and grassroot leaders, and politicial insurgents have creatively used Rev. Sharpton's campaign and his appearances as a means to fight entrenched Black political establishments. This has particularly been the case in Black communities in South Carolina and Louisiana.
Your editorial, which trumpets Rev. Sharpton's brilliant idea to make small businesses and entrepreneurs exempt from federal taxes for two years, indicates that now Rev. Sharpton has decided to don the "outsider" hat - coming up with the fresh ideas that no progressive partisan has; and which reflect nuances of the Black community that no political party feels comfortable addressing for very long. This type of thinking is not new for Rev. Sharpton. In fact the very first time I met him in March of 1998, in Harlem, he and I discussed the potentially positive impact that tax cuts - consistently advocated by Republicans - could have on the Black economy. The lowering of onerous taxes on individuals and businesses is not a "Republican" idea, as The Washington Times and even die-hard liberals may like to think; but rather, is just a sound economic principle that one can find advocated in the Bible (read the fifth chapter of the book of Nehemiah); or in a discussion with any Black or White small business owner, struggling or not.
Unfortunately, to my way of thinking, Rev. Sharpton has not consistently emphasized this aspect of his thinking in public, as he has struggled to figure out how to position himself in the political marketplace in the minds of White voters. He obviously believes that running inside of the Democratic Party is the best strategy for his political career; and I think he decided several months ago that running as a "progressive partisan" could provide him with critical support outside of the Black community. This tactic is also consistent with Rev. Sharpton's conviction that his campaign is the successor to the "rainbow" presidential campaigns of his mentor, Rev. Jesse Jackson. Consistent with all of this was Rev. Sharpton's decision to adopt the "progressive partisan" political ideology of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and his communications director, Frank Watkins, who served as a chief adviser to Rev. Jackson. Months ago Rev. Sharpton hired Mr. Watkins as his campaign manager; and in a Democratic Party debate hosted by Rainbow Push on June 22, 2003, announced that his political platform had been written by Mr. Watkins and Rep. Jackson, Jr. Now, true to form, we see Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. distancing himself from Rev. Sharpton and supporting the premier "progressive partisan" with the best chance of becoming president. It has always been interesting to me to see how difficult it is for many Black people to fully accept the reality that the nation's premier "progressive partisan" will always be a White male, in American politics.
While I respect the brilliance of Rep. Jackson, Jr. and his chief adviser, Mr. Watkins, I have told my closest political friends and stated in public, for months, that it has been a mistake for Rev. Sharpton to so suddenly and unnecessarily abandon his own thinking, expressed in his excellent book (and the powerful critique of establishment economic development programs for America's inner cities) Al On America, in favor of Rep. Jackson Jr.'s progressive magnum opus, A More Perfect Union.
As I wrote to political consultant Dick Morris a few months ago, Rev. Sharpton cannot change the political position that he currently maintains in the minds of White voters by using the "progressive partisan" playbook and directly appealing to them. But, as is the case with popular Black cultural phenomenon (consider Hip-Hop for example); Rev. Sharpton should speak to his Black audience in front of Whites and seek to do whatever is necessary to lock down 50% of the Black vote; and by doing so Whites will draw the appropriate inference(s) and read the implications of his growing popularity and powers of eloquence and articulation, and will decide to crossover to him - almost begging him to embrace their cause(s). Only by solidifying a broad cross-section of support from the Black community can Rev. Sharpton change the way he is viewed by White Democrats. While they applaud his articulate points, I do not think that many White voters see much utility for Rev. Sharpton beyond entertainment value. That will change if Rev. Sharpton is able to continue to tighten his grip on the Black vote. A recent Gallup poll shows Rev. Sharpton leading all Democrats, with 22% of the Black vote. He must double that percentage in my view to translate that support into a significant level of White support.
Now that Frank Watkins has resigned as Rev. Sharpton's campaign manager; and Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. is reportedly supporting Howard Dean, Rev. Sharpton is now free to run as the outsider that he truly is. An important aspect of this outsider role will be Rev. Sharpton's ability to speak to economic issues in a manner that is outside of the box of the Democratic Party (and its associated think tanks and interest groups) talking points, and which reflects an understanding of the nuances of the Black economy juxtaposed to government efforts at inner city economic development, which Rev. Sharpton understands better than virtually any politician - Black or White (read pgs. 101 through 103 of Al On America).
I met with Rev. Sharpton on September 24, 2003, in Washington, D.C. the day before the Democratic Party debate hosted by CNBC. With Rev. Sharpton dissecting the New York Times business page; I discussed some ideas with him regarding how none of the other Democratic Party candidates could handle him, if he would speak about economics in a way that accurately addressed the nuances of the Black economy, from the bottom-up. We touched on the monetary deflation, Black teenage unemployment, the decline of Black business districts, and the rise of Black venture capital. I was very impressed by his ability to place complex economic arguments into political language that anyone could understand. Some of what I discussed with Rev. Sharpton, I turned into a 3-page memo of advice that he could review prior to his CNBC debate. A week later, with some caution and reluctance, I made some of the contents of that memo public. I did so for a few reasons, one of which was to help make a point to Rev. Sharpton, other Black political leaders, and the viewers of BlackElectorate.com regarding an important principle; another motive was to highlight the dangers of taking on advisers who do not understand the nuances, spirit, and mechanics of the Black community.
If you read that memo, you will see that Rev. Sharpton's idea to make entrepreneurs and small business owners exempt from federal taxes, brilliantly dovetails with the third of five points that I made, regarding how Rev. Sharpton could begin to speak to two groups - Black entrepreneurs (who are 50% more likely to start a business than other groups), and White small business owners (who are the engine of the American economy but are consistently an afterthought of the Bush administration's economic agenda, left behind in favor of an appeal to major corporations). If Rev. Sharpton can combine his powerful new fiscal policy initiative and the ideas he has already expressed regarding the indigenous Black economy in Al On America with 1) both a critique of how Federal Reserve monetary policy has hurt the domestic and global Black economy (which will appeal to White populists and progressives) 2) a specific critique of how Black institutions of financial intermediation (commercial banks, insurance companies, investment banks, private equity firms, and venture capitalists) are hurt by U.S. government policy - monetary and regulatory and 3) an initiative to shorten the holding period (from the current 5 years, to 1 year or 6 months) to qualify for capital gains exemption on investments made in businesses in inner cities and distressed rural areas [In an interview with Bloomberg Financial News I explained how this could have lead to a boom in initial public offerings (IPOs) in the Hip-Hop music and fashion industries in recent years. This could work well with Rev. Sharpton's outreach to the Hip-Hop community and industry and his opinion of their importance. He recently stated, "I am convinced the swing vote of 2004 is the hip-hop generation," ]; I think he will be well on his way to attracting at least 50% of the Black vote in the earliest Democratic primaries, giving you plenty more to write about.
Your editorial "Sharpton's Tax Cuts" is one of the strongest indications that the real elements of a much discussed political realignment in Black America are now rising above the surface. Perhaps Rev. Sharpton is the long-awaited political agent, necessary to make it happen. How natural and fitting it is that it would be the conservative Washington Times, and not a liberal, progressive, or Democratic-friendly publication - supposedly sympathetic to the condition of the Black community - that would recognize and publicly admit what is going on.
Congratulations and thank you.
Monday, November 3, 2003