BOSTON — Rev. Jesse Jackson had a tough act to follow when he addressed the Take Back America “shadow convention” Thursday afternoon. It was at this same clandestine conference earlier in the week that Howard Dean got all worked up. Dean charged that the Bush administration “cares more about burning books than reading books.”
“You can’t call the president a fascist,” he added later. “We’re not trying to do that, this week, anyway.”
Jackson is no slouch, though, and he managed to bring the crowd of 500 to their feet with a laundry list of famous liberals and conservatives.
“Herod was a conservative,” Jackson thundered. “Jesus was a liberal. The slave master was a conservative. The abolitionist was a liberal. Those who denied women the right to vote were conservatives. Those who gave them that right were liberals.”
But Jackson was not done, and the further he waded into the fever swamps of conspiracy theories, the louder the crowd shouted. “Preach!” they shouted when he claimed the election was stolen. “Give it to em’ Rev.!” they brayed when he claimed the election process in America was as corrupt as in Afghanistan and Iraq. “The truth!” they strained in chorus when he told them Dick Cheney might have a plan to cancel the election and seize power.
And then he hushed the crowd to let them know that he was about to drop the big one.
“What if they do have bin Laden locked up…and are planning to bring him out right around Halloween time,” Jackson posited. “Absurd? I am not convinced. I am supposed to believe the best military with all that sophisticated technology cannot find several men with food and medical supplies? I am not convinced.”
“Absurd?” he asked the crowd.
“No!” they thundered back.
I saw Jackson six times over the last four days, always accompanied by an enormous security detail, but the first time I observed people actually excited to see him was at the “shadow convention.” Here he was treated as a demigod, though it wasn’t readily apparent as to why.
For example, at one point Jackson promised to explain from whence progressive power emanated. After a long pause, he began: Progressive power without diversity, he said, was, “the arrow without, uh, the feathers, and the um…What’s that long stick called?”
“The shaft!” someone yelled.
“You’re right,” Jackson said, as if it had been a quiz. Isn’t this the kind of stuff these folks are always making fun of Bush over? On my way into the convention I was handed a calendar published by the American Prospect that collects the clumsy verbiage of George. W. Bush. But it was genius when Jackson said, “Some progressives have the arrowhead, but no shaft. No power. No THRUST!”
And though Jackson claims his liberalism flows from to his dedication to Jesus Christ, he must have missed those Sunday school classes that dealt with humility. After spending 15 minutes talking about how integral his 1984 presidential run was to bringing diversity into American politics, Jackson actually took credit for inspiring Barack Obama to run for office. The Rev. seems to believe he is the wellspring from which all useful black American things arise. And he clearly wants his worshippers to follow his lead.
“If John Kerry came out tonight with no voice and no front teeth, but said he’d appoint a civilized Supreme Court, that’s enough for me,” Jackson said. “I’ll vote for him.”