Al Sharpton Convention Speech

I just finished listening to Al Sharpton’s address to the Democratic convention on the radio and was bewildered that the crowd kept cheering wildly at the most inane, demonstrably stupid things over and again. I don’t yet have a transcript available but, for example, does anyone in that room seriously think that, if George W. Bush is president another four years, blacks will lose their right to vote and be returned to slavery? And, after arguing for several minutes that going to war in Iraq was equivalent to him tricking the people to leave the convention hall and other such nonsense, he then turned around and said he thought we should in fact be bringing democracy to the people of Baghdad but what about the people of D.C.? Huh?

The line about waiting for forty acres and a mule until Herbert Hoover and then riding the donkey was pretty funny. Pretty much everything that followed was, again, bizarre.

Exaggeration and hyperbole are part and parcel of convention speeches. Red meat and all that. But the people in the audience genuinely seemed to believe it.

Update (7/29): I would note that the transcript is still not up on the DNC site at 1020. NYT has it.

Update (7-29, 0906): AP – Sharpton Speech Draws Standing Ovations

Al Sharpton won the hearts of delegates to the Democratic National Convention with a rousing and raucous speech Wednesday night, saying his failed quest for the White House was proof that kids can grow up poor and make it in America. “As I ran for president, I hoped that one child would come out of the ghetto like I did, could look at me walk across the stage with governors and senators and know they didn’t have to be a drug dealer, they didn’t have to be a hoodlum, they didn’t have to be a gangster,” he said. “They could stand up from a broken home, on welfare, and they could run for president of the United States.”

Sharpton repeatedly departed from his prepared text – text that had been scrubbed by John Kerry’s staff – and the amended message resonated with the delegates who frequently interrupted his address with cheers and applause. One of many standing ovations went on for a minute after he told delegates that after the nation failed to deliver on Civil War-era promises of “40 acres and mule” to freed slaves, “we didn’t get the mule so we decided we’d ride this donkey as far as it would take us.” He repeatedly slammed the Republican administration.
“Mr. President, the reason we are fighting so hard, the reason we took Florida so seriously, is our right to vote wasn’t gained because of our age,” Sharpton said. “Our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs, soaked in the blood of (civil rights activists) Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, soaked in the blood of four little girls in Birmingham. This vote is sacred to us. This vote can’t be bargained away. This vote can’t be given away. “In all due respect, Mr. President, read my lips: Our vote is not for sale.”

The fact that no one has offered to buy it seems not to matter.

NYT – The Rev. Al Sharpton’s Remarks to the Democratic National Convention [RSS not available]

We are here 228 years after right here in Boston we fought to establish the freedoms of America. The first person to die in the Revolutionary War is buried not far from here, a Black man from Barbados, named Crispus Attucks. Forty years ago, in 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party stood at the Democratic convention in Atlantic City fighting to preserve voting rights for all America and all Democrats, regardless of race or gender. Hamer’s stand inspired Dr. King’s march in Selma, which brought about the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Twenty years ago, Reverend Jesse Jackson stood at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, again, appealing to the preserve those freedoms.

Tonight, we stand with those freedoms at risk and our security as citizens in question. I have come here tonight to say, that the only choice we have to preserve our freedoms at this point in history is to elect John Kerry the president of the United States.


This court has voted five to four on critical issues of women’s rights and civil rights. It is frightening to think that the gains of civil and women rights and those movements in the last century could be reversed if this administration is in the White House in these next four years.
I suggest to you tonight that if George Bush had selected the court in ’54, Clarence Thomas would have never got to law school.

This idiocy was greeted with wild cheers.

We did it with a go-it-alone foreign policy based on flawed intelligence. We were told that we were going to Iraq because there were weapons of mass destruction. We’ve lost hundreds of soldiers. We’ve spent $200 billion dollars at a time when we had record state deficits. And when it became clear that there were no weapons, they changed the premise for the war and said: No, we went because of other reasons. If I told you tonight, Let’s leave the Fleet Center, we’re in danger, and when you get outside, you ask me, Reverend Al, What is the danger? and I say, It don’t matter. We just needed some fresh air, I have misled you and we were misled.


The promise of America is one immigration policy for all who seek to enter our shores, whether they come from Mexico, Haiti or Canada, there must be one set of rules for everybody. We cannot welcome those to come and then try and act as though any culture will not be respected or treated inferior. We cannot look at the Latino community and preach one language. No one gave them an English test before they sent them to Iraq to fight for America.

We should send troops abroad unable to communicate with one another?

It, to me, is a glaring contradiction that we would fight, and rightfully so, to get the right to vote for the people in the capital of Iraq in Baghdad, but still don’t give the federal right to vote for the people in the capital of the United States, in Washington, D.C.

Rightfully so? I thought we were misled?

Mr. President, as I close, Mr. President, I heard you say Friday that you had questions for voters, particularly African- American voters. And you asked the question: Did the Democratic Party take us for granted? Well, I have raised questions. But let me answer your question. You said the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is true that Mr. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, after which there was a commitment to give 40 acres and a mule. That’s where the argument, to this day, of reparations starts. We never got the 40 acres. We went all the way to Herbert Hoover, and we never got the 40 acres. We didn’t get the mule. So we decided we’d ride this donkey as far as it would take us.

Again, fairly amusing. And, certainly, FDR offered some things to black Americans of the day that made voting for him logical. But then Sharpton contined:

Mr. President, you said would we have more leverage if both parties got our votes, but we didn’t come this far playing political games. It was those that earned our vote that got our vote. We got the Civil Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the Voting Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the right to organize under Democrats. Mr. President, the reason we are fighting so hard, the reason we took Florida so seriously, is our right to vote wasn’t gained because of our age. Our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs, soaked in the blood of good men (inaudible) soaked in the blood of four little girls in Birmingham. This vote is sacred to us. This vote can’t be bargained away. This vote can’t be given away. Mr. President, in all due respect, Mr. President, read my lips: Our vote is not for sale.

What the hell does that mean? Who is asking the vote be bargained or sold? Bush was asking that you actually think about the policy alternatives offered by both parties rather than reflexively voting for a party that has done nothing new for decades.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Democracy, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    That’s because a large hunk of the Democratic party is completely delusional.

    I’m not just saying that- They just believe things that simply are not true. I think the party of the left is turning into the party of the insane in many ways.

  2. Jim Henley says:

    Select black Democratic leaders have been pushing the “the Repubs are going to take away our legal right to vote” line on black radio for years. Jesse Jackson Jr. was retailing this on Washington stations four years ago. It’s all about alarming the sh;t out of people.

    When you consider that the history of Black America is one of perseverence under often terrible conditions – a heroic feat of stamina, really – the concerted effort to turn the entire community into one large client population has to rank as the Democratic Party’s most appalling characteristic.

  3. Peter says:

    Granted there is no way that Bush would take away African-Americans’ voting rights. The point is that the republican party has not shown any interest in AA’s, except at election time. In order to win their people’s votes, you need to do something for them. Republicans are hard pressed to find something that they have done for AA’s, and so will not get the Black vote.

  4. D.A.S. says:

    To the maintainer of this website,let me just say this…It is clear that you seem to be an avid Bush supporter. For one thing, if you don’t like Sharpton and plan to ride Bush until you can’t anymore–be my guest. I just believe that you are absurdly ridiculous for questioning a speech that so profoundly thought-provoking! Obviously, you are a one-sided individual who has a problem with THE TRUTH. Wake up before it’s too late, please…

  5. Lars says:

    The African American vote may not be legally taken away, but in the year 2000 many were illegally prevented from voting in the state of Florida, thus resulting in the “election” of your favorite person. On a side note, I’d like to watch you carefully dissect one of Bush’s speeches and see what idiocies fall out of it.

  6. Lars says:

    Is it really the Democrats that “just believe things that simply are not true”? Because I’ve noticed that an awful lot of Republicans actually believed (and may still) that the war in Iraq was about “freedom” and “human rights.” Oh, and finding weapons of mass destruction. Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where is the freedom for the countless Iraqi civilians maimed and killed in this war?

  7. Rob says:

    > he then turned around and said he thought we
    > should in fact be bringing democracy to the people
    > of Baghdad but what about the people of D.C.? Huh?

    The problem with straw man arguments is that they’re so easy to refute. I don’t know if you’re feigning ignorance to make Sharpton look stupid, or if you genuinely don’t know, but the population of Washington DC has long been disenfranchised from the right to vote. The technical legal status has changed over the years, but only recently were they even allowed to vote for president (with as many electors as Wyoming, even though the population is about 2/3 bigger), and as of now, the District is not represented in Congress.

    See this site for more:
    They’re obviously “biased” in the sense that they’re in favor of full enfranchisement for DC, but it’s kind of asinine to take the opposite position, isn’t it?

  8. James Joyner says:


    DC isn’t “disenfranchised.” They aren’t a state and thus don’t get U.S. Senators or U.S. Representatives. Nor, for that matter, do U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico or Guam. I’ve discussed possible solutions to the problem elsewhere.

    The problem with Sharpton’s speech, though, is that he simulataneously argues we shouldn’t have gone to war with Iraq but that it was correct to go over and fight for their democracy.

  9. Lars says:

    James, honey, you should read those two sections more carefully because that is not what Sharpton is saying. You are correct in assessing his main criticism of the war on Iraq: the administration misused information in order to manipulate the American public. He is criticizing the manner in which the war was conducted, but not the war itself.

  10. John Acton says:

    I grew up in the segregted Deep South where different kinds of Republicans from those who run the GOP today courageously led the transformation of a reluctant society towards what most of us now agree was justice delayed. Johm Minor Wisdom and J. Skelly Wright would no more be appointed to a US Southern District bench than Earl Warren would be named to the Supreme Court. I was proud to be a Republican when the first African-American allowed to attend LSU Law School, Ernest Morial, asked me to join his campaign for the Louisiana legislature in 1966. I had recently returned to New Orleans from Yale, where a new kind of Republican was emerging, like my college mate George W. Bush, who was certainly not a segregationist but who refused to do anything to advance anyone’s civil rights. When i entered Yale two years before him, there were no women, only one Black–the son of an African diplomat–there was still a “numerus clausus” for Jews, no Hispanic Americans (but some children of wealthy Latin businessmen and politicians), no acommodation for the deafness of Guy Struvey–who would graduate first in our class–or anyone else with a difference–like Jim Schwartz, who graduated magna cum laude despite being unable because of Cerebral Palsy to take some classes held on high floors in buildings that are now accessible. The new Republicans of YAF were much better grounded in conservative thought, classic writings, and the influence of Bill Buckley than today’s dumbed down GOP, but the common denominator was indifference to injustice, inequality or suffering if it required concerted action.

    I listened to the same speech you did and winced at some rhetorical solecisms, but the point Sharpton made about the course of American history and African American loyalty to the Democratic party is a sad commentary on the decline of the Party of Lincoln tp the Party of Thurmond and Helms and our contemporaries who are more concerned with looking pious than in doing justise, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. We need our own Sharptons in the GOP to speak truth to power and keep us honest.


  11. Dan says:

    Well, the political commentary in this blog entry is about as inane as it gets. “Astounding.” What’s that supposed to mean? You rebut an entire paragraph with, “Astounding.” Alright.

    Which part are denying? That Bush has a go-it-alone foreign policy, that we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars, or that Bush changed the premise of the war after we invaded?

    Since you didn’t say anything substantial in any of your rebuttals, I’ll just comment on this one simple point.

    “…said he thought we should in fact be bringing democracy to the people of Baghdad but what about the people of D.C.? Huh?”

    What do you mean, “Huh?” There’s another high-minded rebuttal. Have you not followed politics at all? The DC license plate says “Taxation Without Representation.” The DC delegates at the convention mentioned the fact that they do not have full representation. Almost certainly the SINGLE-LARGEST ISSUE in DC politics is the fact that they do not have “full representation in Washington,” meaning there is no such thing as “Senator ____” from Washington, DC. There is a Senator Michael Enzi (Republican) from Wyoming. There’s a Senator Michael Craig (Republican) from Wyoming. There’s no Senator *anything* from DC, even though there are more people in DC (mostly black and Democrat) than Wyoming (mostly white and Republican). The balance of power in the Senate is 51-49 in favor of the Republicans.

    The whole point, then, for those who STILL don’t understand the concept, is that it’s hypocritical for America to throw it’s military around to force democracy on others when the people in our OWN NATION’S CAPITAL do not fully participate in our own democracy. In fact, as I recall, the person who’s running the country right now participated in an election in 2000 in which another candidate won the popular vote.

    Look up “democracy” in the dictionary. I’m sure after you read the definition you’ll come up with a snappy response, like “Astounding,” or “Huh?” Then you can post your thoughts in full on your unbelievably informative blog.