President Obama delivered a speech Wednesday at the annual convention of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, in an apparent attempt to shore up African-American support for his just-launched re-election campaign. Sharpton is a notoriously polarizing figure, and Obama mostly kept the civil rights leader at arm's length during the run-up to the 2008 election. Does Obama need Sharpton this time around, or will courting him backfire?
This photo opp will come back to haunt Obama: Sharpton's group has plastered its website with pictures of its leader being chummy with Obama, says Jonathan Turley at his blog. You can bet Republicans will be "featuring the same photographs" to link the president to "Sharpton's history of race-baiting and demagoguery." Sharpton may have the ear of some black voters, but a much larger crowd sees Sharpton and thinks about "alleged corrupt practices."
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It is risky, but Sharpton's support will pay off: Love him or hate him, "Sharpton is emerging as 'the president' of black America," says Dominic Carter at Politico. Obama, the nation's first black president, "has largely finessed the topic of race," but that has opened him up to "growing criticism from some African-American leaders that he lacks a 'black agenda.'" Sharpton's enthusiastic backing will cool the "smoldering" complaints, and get black voters to show up at the polls and vote Obama.
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Sharpton is not as toxic as he once was: Sharpton isn't as much of a provocateur as he used to be, says Ron Scherer at The Christian Science Monitor. These days, he's more keen on conferring with cabinet officials or lobbying Wall Streeters for donations than hurling rhetorical firebombs into the national race debate. "The economic recovery has left many blacks and other minority workers behind" — showing Sharpton some respect sends the message that Obama cares.
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