It wouldn’t convince me to vote for Barack Obama, but his rise in American politics has had at least one salutary effect. It has marginalized Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, two long-time race-baiters and both former Presidential candidates in their own right. Allison Samuels at Newsweek notes the decline of their influence in an anecdote from Los Angeles:
Jesse Jackson can still get a crowd going—when he can find one. He appeared at a Los Angeles restaurant this fall, primed to discuss school dropout rates and home foreclosures. But only eight people showed up, mostly reporters. It’s no longer Reverend Jackson’s day in the sun, or any other black leader’s whose name isn’t Barack Obama. So where does that leave the leaders to whom black America has long turned in times of crisis—Jackson, and the Revs. Andrew Young and Al Sharpton? At times they can seem like jealous, cranky old men, as in December when Young suggested Bill Clinton was “every bit as black as Barack.” Or when Jackson said Obama was “acting white” by skipping a giant rally for the Jena Six.
Samuels says jealousy only is one part of it. The three worry about losing the “angry black man” quality that has kept their movements afloat. Obama, with his post-civil-rights, post-Jim Crow upbringing doesn’t bring the fire and brimstone to the political arena that they do. Jealousy plays a larger part than they’ll admit, though, because Samuels reports that Obama has not sought them out in this campaign, no doubt angry himself after the remarks made by Jackson and Young during the campaign.
Obama doesn’t play the extortion angle that Jackson does. He hasn’t campaigned for President so he can shake down corporations for “donations” to Jackson’s organization. Obama doesn’t have a history of publicly backing hoaxes in order to incite riots. And if the Times has the numbers correct, he needn’t bother; the African-American community has started moving past the “angry man” politics that have served neither themselves nor the nation as a whole for at least the past two decades.
Score one positive development from the Obama campaign. Even if one doesn’t like his policies, he deserves at least some accolades for marginalizing Jackson and Sharpton.