Your Jan. 22 editorial criticizing Al Sharpton's candidacy contained more rancor than reason. It began with the odd premise that if someone has little chance of winning his party's nomination, or the presidency, then he has no business entering the presidential campaign. This proposition would certainly be news to Eugene McCarthy, Shirley Chisholm, John Anderson or even Teddy Roosevelt, to name just a few of the long shots who greatly enriched the public debate with their candidacies.

The editorial went on to imply that there was something vaguely dishonorable about Sharpton's desire to speak for minorities and the oppressed. I agree that the Tawana Brawley episode was disgraceful, but not as disgraceful as Congress adjourning for Christmas recess knowing that millions of people were about to lose their unemployment benefits, or coddling the wealthy while 41 million people have no access to health insurance.

Among the field of six Democratic candidates, Sharpton would be my sixth choice; but that still puts him well ahead of George W. Bush on my list.

-- Jeffrey Rowan

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The editorial on the Rev. Al Sharpton's entry into the 2004 Democratic presidential field made some valid points, but I disliked its mocking tone.

Yes, Sharpton's activism often seems to reflect and highlight the divisions in our society, rather than aiming to overcome them. Yes, he may be fairly described as a self-promoting politician without portfolio. And, yes, his immediate goals stop short of taking up residence in the White House.

But Sharpton is a charismatic speaker who gives voice to people's concerns and aspirations. He can inspire more loyalty and energy from a room full of activists in a five-minute speech than Joe Lieberman could in 10 lifetimes.

And in the somnambulant state of the Democratic Party, highlighting our society's divisions will do much more to energize the debates -- and political opposition in general -- than the hair-splitting to which we would otherwise likely be subjected.

To whatever extent party resources will flow through Sharpton's recently torched offices, that will benefit the party much more than Sharpton himself, as Sharpton's characterization of the Democrats' attitude toward the working class and nonwhite voters is on target.

Where was your mockery in the wake of the Lieberman announcement, from which progressives can hope for not much, save a Mondale-scale electoral flogging?

-- Jon Lottman