Al Sharpton, riding the donkey and slapping Bush

Published July 26, 2004 6:53PM (EDT)

Just as the Democratic convention threatened to sink into a sleepy sea of optimism, the Rev. Al Sharpton stepped up to save the day with a smoking speech before the Black Caucus. With all of the emotion but none of the weirdness of Howard Dean's scream, Sharpton railed against George W. Bush for having the "audacity" to suggest -- as he did last week in an Urban League speech -- that African-Americans should consider the Republican Party as viable "alternative" for their votes.

"The insult there was that he acted like we have become Democrats by some unthinking process, rather than that we had been rejected and treated hostile by the Republican Party," Sharpton told an enthusiastic crowd. "They promised us 40 acres and a mule. We waited and nothing happened. The fact of the matter is, Mr. Bush, we waited around with the Republican Party through Herbert Hoover. Still didn't get the 40 acres. Didn't even get the mule. So we decided we'd ride this donkey as far as it would take us."

Sharpton dismissed Bush as a cynical interloper, and he made it clear that African-Americans should work within the Democratic Party, even if they have differences with it. "If Democrats deliver for us, we'll deliver for them," Sharpton said. "If Democrats don't deliver, we will deal with Democrats. But we don't need anybody that never did anything for us and with us, telling us that they're an alternative. Even if we've got trouble in our marriage, we're not going out with just anybody available to us."

Sharpton said African-Americans choose to be Democrats because the party is aligned with their interests. "We're not going to allow four more years of Bush based on some flimsy personality analysis," he said. "We did not come this far to be talked to about who smiles right and who preaches right. We've got enough smiling and preaching to make up for everybody. "

And he made it clear that he, for one, isn't ready to "get over" the disenfranchisement of African-American voters in Florida in 2000. "We got this right to vote through bloodshed, through sacrifice, through house burnings, through church bombings. We come to Boston not just because we just were added on. We died first. We suffered most. And we can walk in here with our heads held high and our shoulders back."

As the crowd exploded in applause, Sharpton contrasted his run for the presidency with Bush's experience of "being born on third base and thinking he hit a triple." "I wasn't even born in the stadium," Sharpton shouted. "I had to fight through the parking lot, get through the front gate, go around through the crowd, and thenhit a triple. But we're here now, and we ain't going nowhere. No backing up. No selling out. No bowing and scraping. This is our day. This is our time. We're here, and we're not going back."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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