There was a time, not long ago, when the dominant arbiters of opinion relegated Al Sharpton to the outskirts of serious, respectable discussion. Sure, he was a fixture on the Ebonymagazine list of the 100 “top” black Americans. Sure, journalists called him when they needed a provocative quip. Sure, Democratic Party politicians courted him. But “the Rev” was unmistakably relegated to the black ghetto of celebrity activism.
No one thought to ask his opinion regarding issues other than those perceived as directly pertinent to aggrieved blacks. The deference accorded by Establishment bigwigs stemmed more from fear of his ability to cause them trouble than respect for his skill at envisioning positive initiatives. Among white opinion leaders he was widely seen as the very embodiment of a race hustler, a living version of Reverend Bacon, the demagogue that Tom Wolfe concocted in his novel Bonfire of the Vanities. There was, alas, a basis for this negative impression.
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