President Bill Clinton told us in June 1997 that he aimed to start a “national conversation on race.” He failed.

Twelve years later, Attorney General Eric Holder told the Department of Justice staff that, “We, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.”

This month, President Barack Obama said protests against grand jury findings were “helping the country have a necessary conversation about race relations and police practices.” Likewise, New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio said on TV that, “We have to have an honest conversation in this country about a history of racism.” And a columnist writing in this paper last week joined them in advocating a national conversation about race.

I suggest that an explanation for the Rev. Al Sharpton would be a useful way to get this national conversation started. The Sharpton problem was succinctly summed up by an ultra-liberal writer in the ultra-liberal Village Voice. In 2004, Wayne Barrett wrote, “Sharpton has miraculously repackaged himself as a combination Spike TV reality star, supposed candidate for the helm of the NAACP, kingmaker within the Democratic National Committee, and telegenic conscience of the left. For New Yorkers who know our most famous reverend well, watching him on display as a post-election ethical compass, representing Democratic values, is the final sick joke in a year when we thought Karl Rove already had the last laugh.”

It was not so long ago that Sharpton was seen as a demagogue, an anti-Semite and a race-baiter. In 1988, he was the impresario of the Tawana Brawley hoax, a fabricated rape accusation against six white men. He challenged one of his victims to sue him, got sued, refused to pay damages, refused to apologize.

In August 1991, a car driven by an elderly Hasidic Jew careened out of control, killing a 7-year-old black child, Gavin Cato. Riots broke out, and Sharpton had another chance to showcase his eloquence: “The world will tell us that [Gavin Cato] was killed by accident. … Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights. … What type of city do we have that would allow politics to rise above the blood of innocent babies? … All we want to say is what Jesus said: If you offend one of these little ones, you got to pay for it. No compromise. Pay for your deeds.”


A rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, was lynched and more than 100 people were injured..

In 1995, Freddy’s Fashion Mart in Harlem, owned by a Jew, was accused of driving a black store owner out of business. Sharpton charged that, “There is a systemic and methodical strategy to eliminate our people from doing business off 125th Street. I want to make it clear … that we will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business.”

Three months later, one of the protesters, Roland Smith, stormed Freddy’s screaming, “It’s on now: All blacks out!” Eight people died in the blaze that followed. Sharpton at first denied that he had spoken at any rallies but, after tapes surfaced, apologized for calling the interloper white.

Now, in the sixth year of Obama’s abortive Post-Racial Era, Sharpton appears in the forefront of the Democratic establishment on every racial controversy of national importance. De Blasio treats him as if he were “co-mayor” of New York City. This notorious huckster of hate is a White House regular and appears jointly with the president and attorney general. He gets to sit in on a two-hour discussion with the president about what to do about police, profiling, grand juries and American racism.

It’s not for me to dictate with whom the Democratic Party leadership chooses to associate. All I’m suggesting is that the presence of Sharpton in their midst requires some kind of explanation. Has new evidence turned up to show that Tawana was a genuine victim? Do we now believe that Afro-racists are entitled to attack Jews? Is Sharpton a changed reverend? And if so, how did this happen? Is he born again as a Christian reverend or did he successfully complete some kind of rehabilitation program?

This is important to know because of a recent Rasmussen poll showing 31 percent of blacks, 49 percent of Republicans, 36 percent of independents and 29 percent of Democrats think most blacks are racists. If these opinions have any substance then we have to consider the possibility that Obama and Holder are racists as well. This would explain their chumminess with Al Sharpton.

You see, a “conversation” is not the same as a lecture, where a few do the talking and the rest of us sit quietly. The very prefix “con-” connotes general participation. This does not allow the few to set rules excluding certain topics, facts, objections and arguments.

Or we could skip the national conversation about race altogether. I’d be OK with that, too.

John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of Email to [email protected].

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