Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Just Say No to Jessie Jackson

Poor Jessie Jackson—the civil rights activist everybody loves to hate! Every time he opens his mouth these days, his foot lands in it.

First, at a TV taping he’s overheard on an open microphone using the “N” word in referring to Senator Barack Obama. Mr. Jackson expresses disagreement with Mr. Obama’s strong criticism of paternal irresponsibility in the African American community. For a one-time presidential candidate himself, the slur is especially unsettling.

The Obama camp swiftly distances Mr. Jackson—even further, which probably didn’t sit well with the aging activist. He made a public apology for his inappropriate remarks but the tone was a little like Hillary’s conceding the nomination—not all that convincing.

Lately, he’s sprouting Obama foreign policy on the Middle East without any sort of authorization from the campaign. Naturally, any less than lauding mention of Israel and you are in big trouble when it gets out. So what does Jackson tell a conference on Middle East affairs? Under an Obama’s Administration Israel's favored nations status would no longer be so secure a given.

Naturally a rightwing columnist from Rupert Murdoch’s New York rag is among the conferencees at which Jackson pontificates at length on Obama foreign policy initiatives as it he were an advisor or a member of Obama’s inner-circle, which the Obama camp is swift to deny.

Mr. Jackson is savvy enough to know that he would be upsetting two camps with those remarks: the Israelis and the Obama campaign but he obviously didn’t care. He could not spend another moment in the odious exile his earlier remarks had cast him.

He didn’t like feeling impotent in such a dynamic political season, and maybe feeling slight pangs of resentment over Obama’s resounding success as his own try to win the White House came to mind. While Jackson’s run was more pie in the sky than any thing, Mr. Obama is making serious inroads and short of some major catastrophe, he may very well be the first non-white American president. A reality that so many black Americans never thought they would live to see.

Of course, it is with good reason that Mr. Jackson might take exception to Mr. Obama’s charges about the growing number of black men fathering children out of wedlock and taking no responsibility for them. It may have hit a little too close to home. Rev. Jackson’s fall from grace a few years ago centered around fathering a child with a female staffer.

Jackson’s relations with the Jewish community has always been on shaky ground. His infamous Hymietown comment about New York City took years to repair and is still alive in many memories. His unauthorized Obama comments served only to increase suspicions about Obama’s commitment to Israeli interests.

One fear expressed by undecideds and Republicans is that Mr. Jackson would play a prominent role in an Obama Administration. To date there is no clear reason to believe that when just the opposite seems more likely.

Oddly enough, Jackson and John McCann share similarities: two mature warriors looking for a last hurrah and finding it hard to accept the fact that the time has passed.

Since his 1960’s debut, Jackson always comes-off as something of an opportunist. Who could argue that as MLK’s fortunes took a fatal turn, Jackson improved decidedly? He stepped into the media glare an eyewitness to the King assassination at the Lorraine motel in Memphis.

Soon his Afro hairstyling and dashiki attire became a media icon. His comments are often incendiary as he ratchets up the civil rights rhetoric a notch or two. Even Operation PUSH, the organization, which forms his political base, has had its own media embarrassments from time to time.

Now his own son, an Illinois Congressman, has had to repudiate some of his father’s less than diplomatic outbursts. For Jessie Jackson it must be hard being pushed out of the loop and accepting the role of senior eminence, expected to stay above the fray. Let’s hope he can curb grabs for attention, at least until the election is over.

Anything that can be used to humiliate Barack Obama is immediately amplified all out of proportion. But its politics as usual, and by now Mr. Jackson should be a champ at the game.

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