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The Sunday Conversation: The Rev. Al Sharpton

The 'ultimate pulpit' of cable suits Al Sharpton just fine as he reflects on the Republican presidential campaign, President Obama and a major weight loss.

February 19, 2012|By Irene Lacher, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • The Times have caught up to his views, says Al Sharpton, who states that hes still preaching the same things he said 30 years ago.
The Times have caught up to his views, says Al Sharpton, who states that hes… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

The Rev. Al Sharpton, 57, has evolved from outside political agitator to presidential advisor and host of MSNBC's weekday news show "PoliticsNation," which he took over last August. Sharpton, known to friends as "Rev," also heads the civil rights organization National Action Network and Syndication One's eponymous radio show that broadcast weekdays to 40 markets around the country.

How has having your own show on MSNBC affected your image?

I think people understand firsthand what I'm saying my positions are and those of my guests. And I think that absent that, people hear 30-second sound bites on other people's shows. And they get a sense of who you really are and what you're really about when they can see you five nights a week an hour themselves. It may not change their opinion, but it puts the opinion more in context. A lot of people have said, "I agree with you more than I thought I did."

The other thing it changes is it gives me the ability to bring out issues we were never able to bring out before. Because now there's a big difference in trying to raise an issue that I do with my civil rights group and trying to get somebody to let us get on their show and having a show and saying, let's talk about the racial gap in education or whatever that many aren't talking about.

So it's like the ultimate pulpit.

In many ways it's the ultimate pulpit and ultimate bullhorn for me.

Have your views changed since you became a public figure 30 years ago, and has that put you more in line with the powers that be and therefore you have a show?

What has happened is America is different. I'm at a different place because the country is at a different place. And I think that in the context of the country changing, what was considered extreme 30 years ago is more central now, and what was central is considered more to the far right now. And I think that once America is different, those they saw as saying something that was radical, they say, well, that's not really that crazy. I'm not really saying anything different than I said 30 years ago, that America ought to work for everybody, it ought to be fair, it ought to be equal. Let me give you an example: If I say today that I support same-sex marriage, well, imagine saying that 30 years ago. So a lot of things that appear more acceptable today were unthinkable 30 years ago.

So how did you lose so much weight?

About 11 years ago, I led a protest in Puerto Rico on the island of Vieques and we were able to successfully stop the U.S. Navy from bombing exercises. For the sit-in, I was given 90 days in jail, so I decided to go on a hunger strike for 40 days. I just had liquid. Lost a lot of weight. I started feeling better and looking better.

I ran for president in 2004 and I started going back up because of all the dinners and room service. I was around 240, 250. So two years ago, I said, this is ridiculous. I know I can discipline myself. So I went on a self-imposed diet where I ate salads, chicken and fish and drank coffee and tea. In the last year, I cut that out, no coffee, no chicken. Fish twice a week, salads and fruit. And I'm down to 160, 165. And I feel better. I don't need as much sleep. I look better. Now I don't even have an appetite.

How do you think the presidential race is going to play out?

I think the Republicans are in real danger of losing a possible credible run because of self-inflicted wounds. Clearly Mitt Romney is not loved by the right. So whether it's one month with Newt Gingrich or another month Rick Santorum, it's like, anybody but him. This has to take a toll. Or if he can't get 50%, it will be the first brokered convention in a long time.

That all accrues in my opinion to President Obama, whom I support and whom I've worked with since he was in the Senate. So to me right now, it looks good. But I don't take it for granted. I think if the Democrats relax and their strategy is these guys will keep messing themselves up, I think that's a poor strategy. I think you prepare for war in a time of peace.

I also think that you've got to fight to take back the House and the Senate. Because just having the president elected and you still have a majority Republican Congress and the tea party is still strong, we'll still have a lot of obstruction. So there will be a lot of fireworks.

You did a five-city tour with Newt Gingrich to discuss education reform in 2009.

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