The Rev. Al Sharpton used to be one of the prime—and most belligerent—practitioners of the “protest politics” black activists used to get the ear of politicians, but times have changed, and he is now officially an Obama administration insider. The Rev. meets often at the White House, he rebuts criticism from black leaders that Obama isn't doing enough for African Americans, and has signed on to boost black voter turnout in the uninspiring 2010 election.
What's the meaning of Sharpton shift from confrontation to collaboration? He’s the “ultimate political pragmatist,” a colleague tells the Wall Street Journal. The genesis of the partnership appears to have been during the 2008 campaign, when gentle Obama pressure persuaded Sharpton to skip Iowa. “I didn’t want him to lose because of me,” Sharpton says. Different-minded black leaders say Sharpton isn’t pushing the black agenda hard enough. Tavis Smiley thinks it’s difficult “to speak truth to power” when the Rev. is “running in and out of the Oval Office.” Get real, Sharpton responds. “Because he’s black he ought to do what we’ve never asked any other president to do?”