Jesse Jackson Sr. says you have to be nuts to think he would ever do anything to hinder the Obama campaign, and we must agree. We all remember the old joke about the couple who were asked at their 50th wedding anniversary if they ever considered divorce. “Murder yes, divorce never.” It is not in his interest to, er… undercut the Obama juggernaut. What his “real” opinions may be are incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial. We all know that Jesse is not hired to be sincere on an open mike but to play a part; he should be paid at the regular cast rate.
What makes yesterday’s teapot-tempest more interesting than most is the reaction of Jesse Jackson Jr., Democrat of Illinois. The verbiage used in his statement responding to his father’s remarks were in some ways more shocking than Dad’s remarks. He did not content himself with giving Senior guff for the gaffe, he used explosive language. Here are some samples:
“I am deeply outraged and disappointed in Reverend Jackson’s reckless statements about Senator Barack Obama.”
“Reverend Jackson is my dad and I will always love him… So, I thoroughly reject and repudiate his ugly rhetoric.”
“Reverend Jackson’s divisive and demeaning comments… contradict his inspiring and courageous career.”
What this tells us — other than the fact that Junior never uses one verb or adjective when two will do — is that the younger J.J. has seen fit to step out of his father’s shadow. It is never easy to navigate public life when your famous father is always hovering nearby, outshining you with his accomplishments and sliming you with his excesses. Doubly hard when you carry the identical name, distinguished only by the Junior tag which makes you sound like the pesky kid driving his Big Wheels over everyone’s bare feet at the beach party. Now there is a new Jesse on the block, and he is jettisoning the jaded, jejune Jesse like so much jetsam.
There is an irony to the Obama story providing the vessel for this coming-of-age drama. The point that had raised Jesse Senior’s hackles was Obama beginning to lecture black fathers about taking responsibility for their children. Obama is hardly the first black activist to take up this cudgel; it was the theme of Farrakhan’s Million Man March a decade ago, and Bill Cosby has used both literal lectures and comedy routines to broadcast this appeal. Still, Jesse Senior felt either patronized or usurped by Obama adopting this issue.
Senior himself has not been a bad father, other than by adding more progeny outside the realm of wedlock. He has always “been there” for Junior, at least in the public arena. Perhaps it doesn’t take much convincing for Dad to go on camera for his son or anyone else. But in all fairness, he has been very supportive: we all recall his appearance in Congress, as a guest of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, to see Junior be sworn in. He has never directly done anything to damage his son’s prospects.
His indirect effect has been somewhat less salubrious. The son had to endure the revelation of the father’s philandering, and at that time he could hardly voice his true assessment of that behavior. He had to play Chelsea to his father’s Bill, and now the bill must be paid. It reminds me of a very serious Rabbi we had in Hebrew School, who was explaining Jewish law concerning proper bathroom hygiene. We managed not to laugh through the whole presentation, and he left the subject without incident. About five minutes later he made some mildly amusing remark and we all exploded with uncontrollable laughter.
It is certainly time for Jesse Senior to get his comeuppance, and there is some satisfaction seeing him getting it through his son’s step-uppance. We may find that the old man going into eclipse will result in the son reaching his apogee. Perhaps we should keep our eyes peeled for the Jesse Jackson Junior act coming soon to a political theater near you: cabinet position, anyone?