New York — When political commentator and radio show host Sean Hannity walked in to face-off against Rev. Al Sharpton in “The Great Debate” at the National Action Network’s 20th Anniversary Convention, the crowd gave him a welcome suited for a sports team on the road.
“‘I thought you guys were here to root for me and not him,” said a smiling Hannity to a chorus of boos. While he was speaking, Sharpton was introduced and stood in front of him to a standing ovation.
“Hannity, you know better than to say that. This is my turf,” said Sharpton as the crowd jumped up and down chanting his name.
But while both men stand on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Sharpton told the audience that this is an important moment in our political discourse.
“Some of you may support Hannity - and some of you may support me – but at least we are able to sit here and discuss our differences peacefully,” said Sharpton. “This is what America is all about.”
Hannity echoed the sentiment.
“Rev. Al, over the years, you and I have had passionate debates, and we often disagree,” Hannity said. “I’m very, very honored to be back again because in spite of our disagreements, we have had a free and fair and open exchange of ideas. It’s an honor to be back.”
The crowd of close to 300 was predominantly African American and pro-Sharpton, but Hannity made sure to inform his viewers and listeners of the debate. As evident, when he began to slam President Obama.
“The country is 14 trillion in debt, but the president is too busy playing basketball, golf, and filling out college tournament brackets,” said Hannity as his mostly white supporters cheered on the Obama criticisms. “He’s created the most debt of any president in U.S. history and is mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren.”
As Sharpton looked on shaking his head to Hannity’s comments, he took on the shouts of his supporters who were saying: “Bush made this mess!”
“As far as I can remember, Obama inherited a failing Wall Street, a dead auto industry and he’s revived them all,” said Sharpton. “You want to start the economic story with Obama restoring an American house that had been leveled, rather than starting with the fact that the American house was leveled economically and he had to do things to rebuild the house that he didn’t bring down.”
Hannity quickly snapped back.
“Oh, can we stop blaming Bush already? Are the women in this crowd going to blame Bush if they magically become pregnant tomorrow? Stop taking the blame away from your so-called messiah,” said Hannity who repeatedly called Obama that throughout the debate.
Sharpton fired back.
“The problem is,” said Sharpton, “that if you’re going to have a messiah, he has to at least hang around for the resurrection.”
The quip brought Sharpton’s supporters to their feet in the loudest ovation of the debate.
While the debate continued to go back and forth and had its share of laughs, the crowd seemed to gain more than just a debate from this gathering.
“Today, I was able to sit next to someone who didn’t share my political positions at all. Someone who I thought I could never have a conversation with. But we sat next to each other and talked,” said 46-year-old teacher Margaret Smith of Cincinnati. “Too many times we break down our political ideologies through racial lines, and think we can’t be friends with others. But all it takes is a hello.”
The lady who sat next to her echoed the same sentiment with a little jab at the end.
“I thought the same. I thought this white lady was scared to sit next to me,” said 32-year-old Jericha Portraine of New Jersey. “But we sat down and had a good conversation. Too bad for her that Hannity lost the debate.”
“Obama 2012!” she yelled.