The Buzzwords of Al Sharpton
How he spins the issues.
Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they're saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. This series analyzes their pet phrases, candidate by candidate. Today's subject is Al Sharpton.
Example: "I don't think that George Bush cut taxes. I think he shifted taxes. [His tax cut] has caused record state deficits to go untouched … which causes property taxes to be raised by states [and] causes sales tax to be raised. … What you need is a fair tax system that does not … end up shifting the burden to those that can afford it the least" ( Face the Nation, July 6, 2003).
What it means: Bush's tax cuts for the rich have led to tax hikes for the poor.
What it hides: Why are state deficits Bush's fault? P.S.: The rich pay higher property taxes.
Subtext: If this is class warfare, the other side started it.
Example: "Dr. King said there are two types of leaders: There are thermostat leaders and thermometer leaders. Thermometers judge the temperature. Thermostats change the temperature. I intend to turn up the heat in America for the children, for working class people, for those that are ignored" (Children's Defense Fund forum, April 9, 2003).
What it means: Leaders who move public opinion.
What it hides: Heat doesn't come from a thermostat. It comes from a furnace—and I don't have one.
Subtext: Electability is a disqualification.
Example: "If Charlton Heston can have a constitutional right to carry a rifle, why can't grandma have a constitutional right to health care—and therefore the pharmaceutical industry, and for that matter the medical services industry, have to be governed by a constitutional commitment to give Americans those rights?" (NPR's Morning Edition, June 13, 2003).
What it means: To guarantee entitlements, we must write them into the Constitution.
What it hides: The government doesn't pay for Heston's rifle.
Subtext: If the furnace is busted, we lefties might as well go crazy with the thermostat.
Example: "The only way we can win this election is if we bring in the majority of Americans that are not even voting at all. I know those Americans. I've worked with them all my life: the disaffected, the seniors, the young people, the hip-hop generation" (South Carolina debate, May 3, 2003).
What it means: Young people.
What it hides: Most young people are either too young to vote or too young to care.
Subtext: I'm the only candidate who's fun to listen to.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Al Sharpton by Ellen Ozier/Reuters.