Oops. My bad. My mistake, my error, my failure of judgment. I thought John Kerry was the winner in the Democratic presidential primaries. I now realize it was Al Sharpton (search).

Kerry, you see, has won (or, to be more accurate, will win) only the presidential nomination of his party. His reward might be four or eight years in the White House. Big deal.

Sharpton, on the other hand, has won the endorsement of the William Morris Agency (search), one of the largest purveyors of show biz talent in America. His reward will be bright lights and starring roles and guest shots. BIG DEAL.

John Kerry, one assumes, has a vision for America. Al Sharpton, one knows, has a vision for Al Sharpton--and, it is a grand one, involving, according to Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times, “television and radio, books and movies.”

Multi-media Al. Now this is what running for president is really all about!

Sharpton has reportedly said that he wants to host his own all-news cable talk show, in addition to a nationally-syndicated radio program. Talks, as they say, are underway. And, writes Rutenberg, “[Sharpton] has already had an informal discussion with Fox Television Studios about a possible reality television show... And he recently met with Sid Ganis, the Hollywood producer who included Mr. Sharpton in the 2002 remake of ‘Mr. Deeds,’ to discuss future [film] roles.”

There are also rumors that Sharpton wants to perform in next year’s Super Bowl halftime show, ripping a flap of material from Carol Mosely Braun’s (search) bust as the two of them lip-sync the greatest hits of Ludacris (search). At press time, however, this could not be confirmed.

And oh yeah, Sharpton also wants to end racial discrimination in America and further the cause of the underprivileged and downtrodden in their never-ceasing struggle with want and oppression.  If there’s time.

Ultimately, though, this column is more about the William Morris Agency than it is about Al Sharpton. It is about the values of the agency, and what they tell us about the values of the culture that the agency serves.

That Sharpton is a salesman whose product line consists almost entirely of himself cannot be argued. Nor does this mean that consumers should ignore him; the United States, today as always, is full of self-promoters whose goods are sometimes worthy of purchase, and even respect. 

But Reverend Al is also a man with a dishonorable past, or at least with some dishonorable incidents in his past. He is a man who might well have chosen to be an entertainer because he could not make it as a demagogue. He is a man now trying to trump his substance with his style. The odds are in his favor.

For style matters much more than substance today to all too many Americans. It is the present bon mot that engages us, not the past indiscretions. Sure, Al Sharpton was involved in that Tawana Brawley mess a few years ago, but didn’t he host "Saturday Night Live" a few weeks ago?

There is no question that, among all the candidates for the Democratic nomination for president, Sharpton is the best performer, the most superficially engaging. He gets more laughs than Kerry and Edwards and Kucinich put together. Add Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, and Sharpton is still the leading yuck-getter. But might this not be cause for suspicion as much as approbation?

More than half a century ago, Secretary of State Dean Acheson (search) said the following:  “I have almost invariably found that charm is used as a substitute for intelligence in persons of both sexes. Thus, I have always been and will remain wary of it.”

In Sharpton’s case, one wonders whether the charm is a substitute for integrity. At the same time, one wonders whether anyone really cares about this. As a result, one wonders how big a star Sharpton will one day turn out to be.

Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT. He is the author of several books, including The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol (Temple University Press, 2003).

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