Jillian Kay Melchior, writing at National Review, makes the case today that we do. In an NRO piece well worth reading Melchior traces the beginning of the president’s relationship with the professional extortionist and inciter of riots to Obama’s efforts at being perceived as “authentically black” in 2007 following his tepid response to the racially-charged Jena Six case.
If you’ll remember that outburst, it was essentially a mountain made from a molehill. There had been some racial violence at Jena High School between a gang of black kids and a gang of white kids (using “gang” loosely), and it culminated in six black kids beating the stew out of a white kid. The black kids were charged with attempted murder, which was excessive in light of the extent their victim’s injuries, and the cherry on top was that some idiot hung nooses over a few tree branches next to the high school. When that news hit the fan, the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world set world records making their way to Jena in an attempt to blow it up into the Rodney King beating – but as a Big National Deal, it fizzled.
But within the Hard Left and the “civil rights community,” that was seen as the source of frustration and injustice. Something had to be done so incidents like these could get the media play they, and their promoters, deserved.
Enter Obama, who wanted an race-hustling ally not named Jesse…
Jackson said Obama had not adequately weighed in and was “acting like he’s white,” adding that “if I were a candidate, I’d be all over Jena.”
And as it turned out, from her days in Chicago, Jarrett already “hated Jesse Jackson,” a source close to Sharpton tells me. “Obama needed a legitimate black voice from the civil-rights community,” the source adds. “Jesse had made disparaging comments about Obama, [so] Jesse got sidelined. Sharpton is the next person in line.”
Brian Mathis, a media-shy New York financier who had attended law school with Obama and raised money for his campaign, helped open communications between Jarrett and the reverend, sources close to Sharpton say. Around December 2007, they say, Jarrett met with Sharpton to talk politics in New York; some place the meeting at the exclusive Grand Havana Room cigar club on the 39th floor of a Fifth Avenue skyscraper.
Sharpton disputes their account, telling NRO it is “unequivocally untrue” that Jarrett courted him for the Obama campaign. “I had already had a developing dialogue with [Obama], and he even spoke at [National Action Network’s] 2007 convention in April,” Sharpton tells me. He adds: “I’ve known Ms. Jarrett as introduced to me by the president. . . . I don’t remember ever meeting her in the Grand Havana Room. Does she smoke cigars?”
Regardless of the venue, sources close to Sharpton say that in late 2007 or early 2008, Jarrett negotiated a simple deal with the reverend: Sharpton would discreetly support Obama for president, working mostly behind the scenes; he wouldn’t publicly criticize Obama, but he also wouldn’t back him in a way that aroused attention.
Jarrett sought this careful balance after watching how Sharpton had become a political liability for John Kerry in his 2004 campaign. Several attack ads aired in critical states highlighted the close relationship between Kerry and Sharpton, to devastating effect.
Then again, such tacit-support agreements are Sharpton’s “standard M.O.,” says Wayne Barrett, a veteran New York political investigative reporter who has written extensively on the reverend. “Sharpton is the only guy who prospers for not making an endorsement. . . . I don’t think Obama ever wanted Sharpton to endorse him — Obama wanted some distance. . . . [The campaign] didn’t want Sharpton to hurt Obama, but they didn’t want him to be too helpful, either.”
And Sharpton ultimately managed to ingratiate himself to Obama to the extent he’s now the “go-to” guy on race relations by shilling for him when Obama had to throw Jeremiah Wright under the bus…
Wright’s comments created a big dilemma for Obama. On one hand, a Pew poll found that more than one in three voters thought less of him after hearing about Wright’s sermons, and the campaign knew the controversy could especially harm his standing with white voters. On the other hand, Wright was beloved and respected in many black congregations nationwide, so denouncing him could alienate one of Obama’s crucial constituencies.
Gradually and reluctantly, Obama distanced himself from Wright, finally ending his family’s membership at Trinity United Church of Christ in May. Behind the scenes, the Obama campaign relied on Sharpton to reach out to influential black pastors across the U.S., persuading them not to revolt against Obama for his treatment of Wright, several sources close to Sharpton say.
Sharpton confirms his support of Obama throughout the Wright controversy: “That was at a time where we didn’t know whether we were going to win or lose,” the reverend says. “I encouraged everybody, not just black pastors, that I was going to continue to support [Obama].”
Sharpton’s damage control of the Wright controversy won him trust with Obama, laying the groundwork for a relationship that continues today, sources say. As Brendan Bordelon noted last month, Sharpton has visited the White House at least 61 times since Obama took office.
Largely because of Jena, and Obama’s neglect of that opportunity to beat his chest and inflame race relations nationally – something he’s learned never to do again, as those observers of the mess in Ferguson can attest.