It might be the oddest political pairing of the year. Barack Obama, whose campaign for president carefully avoided race-based political appeals, is teaming up with the man who practically perfected them: the Rev. Al Sharpton.
This double-take moment came last month, with Sharpton holding court with reporters at the White House, fresh out of an Oval Office meeting with Obama in his role as co-founder of the bipartisan Education Equality Project.
So far, Sharpton has been to the White House more times, and for more close-up conversations with Obama, than the leaders of other long-established civil rights organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League.
And in April, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the annual convention of Sharpton’s group, the National Action Network, in New York.
Now the Department of Education is making plans for Sharpton to join Secretary Arne Duncan on a five-city tour this fall — an idea that Duncan’s aides say came directly from the White House after the Oval Office meeting.
For some who have followed Sharpton’s long and controversial career, it’s a head-shaker.
Back in the late ’80s, he was called everything from folk hero to racist and made his name protesting police violence and what he saw as widespread racial injustice in New York and around the country.
But it’s more than that. Obama ran as a sort of anti-Sharpton, the first “post-racial” presidential candidate. To see him reaching out to a figure who was once so divisive makes some wonder what Obama sees in Sharpton.