Race Baiter Extraordinaire Sharpton Complains About Sen. Paul’s ‘Cynical Use of Race’

On Thursday’s PoliticsNation on MSNBC, host Al Sharpton was irritated that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) dared to suggest that President Obama should be more concerned about NSA spying because of our country’s history of civil rights leaders being spied upon. Sharpton thundered, “[W]ho is Rand Paul to make this point? This is a cynical use of race from some on the right.”

It was “cynical,” according to Sharpton, because some Republicans have done the opposite of Paul and criticized Obama when he does talk about race. But who is Al Sharpton to accuse someone else of the cynical use of race? The reverend has built his career by relentlessly exploiting racial issues. [Listen to MP3 audio here.]

According to a NewsBusters analysis, Sharpton mentioned race 215 times on his MSNBC show in 2013. And yet, that wasn’t enough for him. This January, he complained on Morning Joe that President Obama had personally discouraged him from pushing the idea that many Americans don’t like Obama simply because he’s black.

If Sharpton couldn’t talk about race, he would barely have anything to talk about. But he has done more than talk about it over the years. He has used it to further his career. He used race to whip up support for Tawana Brawley and didn’t apologize after her rape story turned out to be a hoax. That incident launched Sharpton into the national spotlight. In 1991, he used anti-Jewish rhetoric to incite deadly violence in the Crown Heights riots. A few years later, he incited deadly violence again by leading racially-charged protests in the Freddy’s Fashion Mart incident.

You would think the reverend would appreciate Paul’s concerns about race and NSA spying. Sharpton surely wouldn’t want the government to spy on him, would he? He is a prominent civil-rights crusader, after all.

But Sharpton claimed that Paul has “no credibility” to talk about racial issues because he once said he would have modified the Civil Rights Act if he had been around in the 1960s. The reverend exclaimed, “[W]here does Ron Paul get off talking about race and civil rights at all?”

Um, Rev, we’re talking about Rand Paul, not his father Ron. But here's the point: it’s disingenuous for a man who talks about race so much to criticize another man for talking about race.

Below is a transcript of the March 20 segment:

AL SHARPTON: Why is Senator Rand Paul saying this about our first black president? Here's the Kentucky Republican in a New York Times interview. Quote, “The first African American president ought to be a little more conscious of the fact of what has happened with the abuses of domestic spying. Martin Luther King was spied upon. Civil rights leaders were spied upon. Muhammad Ali was spied upon. Anti-war protestors were spied upon.” Is Rand Paul really bringing race into a conversation about the NSA? And he doubled down in a speech at UC Berkeley last night.

SEN. RAND PAUL: I find it ironic that the first African American president has without compunction allowed this vast exercise of raw power by the NSA. Certainly J. Edgar Hoover's illegal spying on Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement should give us all pause.

SHARPTON: You find it ironic, Senator Paul? Let's clear up a few things. First, President Obama knows full well the history of U.S. spying on civil rights leaders. He mentioned Dr. King specifically when he announced reforms to the NSA earlier this year.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: During the course of our review I’ve often reminded myself I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents like Dr. King who were spied upon by their own government.

SHARPTON: Secondly, who is Rand Paul to make this point? This is a cynical use of race from some on the right. When the president talked about being sensitive to issues of race, like he said after the Trayvon Martin verdict, the right attacks him for it. But it's interchangeable. They attack him for not talking about issues of race too, and when Rand Paul talks about being conscious of race when it comes to spying, what about Condoleeza Rice? She worked for President Bush in an administration known for warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens. And lastly, where does Ron Paul get off talking about race and civil rights at all? This is the man who once said he would have modified the Civil Rights Act if he’d been a senator at the time.

[begin tape}

RACHEL MADDOW: Should Woolworth lunch counter should have been allowed to stay segregated? Sir, just yes or no.

PAUL: What I think would happen  -- what I'm saying is is that I don't believe in any discrimination. There's ten different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act, and nine out of ten deal with public institutions and I'm absolutely in favor of. One deals with private institutions and had I been around I would have tried to modify that.

[end tape]

SHARPTON: That's inexcusable. And so are his latest comments. Senator Paul, did you think we wouldn't notice you have no credibility on this one? This is nowhere close to a nice try. But we got you.

-- Paul Bremmer is a News Analysis Division intern.