Nine candidates are preparing campaigns to win the Democratic presidential nomination and challenge President George W. Bush for the White House in 2004, and for the first time, two black candidates — the Rev. Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun — are competing for the nomination of a major party. But what strategies can we expect from the civil rights leader and the former ambassador and senator as they eye the same prize?
Central to the campaigns of both Sharpton and Moseley Braun is placing civil rights and social justice back on the national agenda. Since the mid-1980s, Sharpton has drawn national attention to racially motivated crimes, racial profiling, criminal justice, and police brutality. With the fall 2002 release of his book, Al on America (Kensington Publishing Corp.; $27), Sharpton launched his candidacy for president as a platform to fight for those who are not empowered. “I’m running for the people who have been excluded,” says Sharpton. “Everything that the Civil Rights Movement has achieved and everything I have fought for over the years is at risk.”
But Sharpton is running for more than the Democratic nomination. He intends to make his campaign a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party. He contends that the party has strayed from its modern roots in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Great Society that grew out of the Kennedy-Johnson administrations. “The Democratic Party must be defined by what it stands for,” says Sharpton. “Too many centrist Democrats have moved the party to the right. As demonstrated by the elections last November, the base of the Democratic Party has felt abandoned — minorities, women, Progressives, and young people.”
The legacy of discrimination is very much what Moseley Braun is campaigning against. She describes how her grandfather, a decorated veteran of the Battle of the Argonne Forest in World War I, returned to America where he couldn’t vote and was denied basic civil liberties. “I’m in this race to ensure that the American dream finally gets extended to all Americans without regard to race, color, or gender,” says Moseley Braun.
Until the start of next year’s primaries and caucuses, the campaigns of the Democratic candidates will largely focus on Bush, the presumptive GOP nominee in 2004. Among the field of Democrats, Moseley Braun and Sharpton are among Bush’s harshest critics. “The Bush administration has been a disaster,” says Moseley Braun. “Americans are losing jobs, many are without healthcare, and Bush has given massive tax cuts to the richest 1% in our society.”
Reparations are likely to be addressed by both African American contenders. “I support reparations,” says Moseley Braun, “not 40 acres and a Lexus, but a program that brings Americans together to resolve the nation’s contradictions between the society’s commitment to equality and opportunity and how minorities are actually treated. Affirmative action is one way to do that. Another approach is to provide more equity capital to minority entrepreneurs. But education is the silver bullet; we need to rebuild crumbling schools.”
For his part, Sharpton would address the agenda