“It was probably the most shocking thing in my life … It’s chilling. It’s amazing.”

–The Rev. Al Sharpton, upon learning that his enslaved ancestors were once owned by relatives of Sen. Strom Thurmond.

I am a big-time Strom Thurmond-basher from way back. Before his “death” in 2003 (due, it is speculated, to the failure of the Disney animatronics used to maintain the illusion of motion), I repeatedly begged my fellow South Carolinians to stop embarrassing themselves by re-electing this unreconstructed fossil. After Thurmond passed, I noted that he did so having never publicly rejected — or even acknowledged — his racist legacy.

But there is one insult so mean-spirited and unfair that even I will not use it against Strom: linking him to the Rev. Al Sharpton.

When the New York Daily News discovered that Sharpton’s enslaved grandfather had been owned by distant members of the Thurmond family, the Rev. claimed that “nothing — nothing — could prepare me for this. It was probably the most shocking thing in my life.”

You want shocking? How about the Daily News’ description of Sharpton as a man “who ran for president in 2004 on a ticket of racial justice?”

Tell that to the seven employees of Freddy’s Fashion Mart in Harlem.

That was the Jewish-owned business burned to the ground by an angry mob whipped up by the race-baiting Sharpton in 1995. Not long after Sharpton set up picket lines and gave angry speeches about what “they” were doing to his black brothers, a Sharpton supporter shot his way into Freddy’s and set it on fire. Seven innocent people died.

This is the same Al Sharpton who distinguished himself during anti-Semitic riots in Crown Heights. After a Jewish driver accidentally killed a young, black child, Sharpton took to the streets, screaming about “diamond merchants” with black blood on their hands. Another angry mob shouted “Kill the Jews” and stabbed a young rabbinical student to death.

Strom Thurmond said plenty of stupid things about race in America, but he never got anyone killed. Thurmond’s stupidity also wore the date-stamp of his era, having run for president in 1948, not 2008.

Indeed, exactly 40 years after Thurmond’s segregationist campaign, Al Sharpton was cynically spreading the lies of Tawana Brawley — a twisted story of rape, violence, and feces so ludicrous even Louis Farrakhan wouldn’t tell it on the Mother Ship. A New York jury eventually found Sharpton guilty of defamation and ordered him to pay $345,000 to the young, white prosecutor he wronged.

Sharpton still refuses to do so, or even admit he did anything wrong.

None of this would matter, however, if Al Sharpton weren’t such a hero to the Democratic Party today — a status Strom Thurmond lost long ago.

Thurmond spent the last 20 years of his career in political solitary confinement. Just telling a joke about the guy cost Trent Lott his job as Senate Majority Leader. If Thurmond were alive today, he’d be attending fewer GOP events than Howard Dean.

Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton recently left an important Senate committee hearing to “talk about issues important to our country” with Al Sharpton. The Rev. met with Sens. Dodd, Biden, and Obama on that same trip, too. And why not? After all, he was a featured speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and will almost certainly be back for a command performance in 2008.

What “issues” do high-profile Democrats discuss with Sharpton? I’m guessing it’s not his references to black political opponents as “yellow niggers.” Or the videotape of allegedly Sharpton talking money laundering with a “cocaine dealer” who turned out to be an informant with the FBI. Or Sharpton’s repeated anti-Semitic comments.

Strom Thurmond was an embarrassment, but Al Sharpton is a disgrace. Even more disgraceful is how the Democratic Party continues to embrace this racist, self-promoting stooge. Where is the journalist who will ask Clinton, Obama, and the DNC how many Jews you have to kill these days before you stop getting invited to represent the Democratic Party on national television? What does Al Sharpton have to do to get dissed by the Democrats like Thurmond was by the GOP?

Not that everyone is fooled. In the 2004 South Carolina presidential primary, only 17 percent of black voters backed Sharpton — a smaller percentage than supported John Kerry (34 percent), John Edwards (37 percent) or … Strom Thurmond. In his final campaign in 1996, Thurmond received 22 percent of the black vote, the highest percentage for any Republican in South Carolina history.

Al Sharpton, you are no Strom Thurmond. If you were, it would be an improvement.

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