Jesse Jackson, Postmodern Moralist

By Eric Cohen

National Review Online
January 26, 2001

The revelation that Jesse Jackson fathered an illegitimate child with a member of his Rainbow Coalition staff reveals him - yet again - for the fraud that he is. For 30 years, Jackson has claimed to speak for the black community in America; and the truth is that many good, decent, morally strong black citizens looked up to him as a man of influence and accomplishment - who was still, by vocation and self-pronouncement, a man of God like them. This responsibility of leadership - rightly or wrongly deserved - is a sacred trust. Jackson broke it yet again. He sold out his own people. And he demonstrated once and for all the sad truth that ideology and personal ambition, not realism or responsibility, are the driving force behind his abrasive politics of protest.

Take just one glaring example of the Jackson fraud: the "digital divide." Before becoming consumed with trying to overturn the election in Florida, Jackson spent his time threatening Silicon Valley CEOs into giving him money - calling them a "national disgrace." He called the digital divide "American apartheid." "We want to be shareholders, not sharecroppers," he declared.

The digital divide, as always with Jackson, was presented as a race issue - an example of institutional and systematic oppression of American blacks by "white society." But the facts, as published in the Commerce Department's own report, tell a very different story. Yes, there is a divide between black and white use of the Internet. But much larger than the gap between whites and blacks (2.5 to 1, according to the report), is the gap between black two-parent and black single-parent households, which is 4 to 1.

Many conservatives and many members of the black community have long believed that illegitimacy is the greatest problem facing the black community; and that an illegitimacy rate hovering around 70% and a generation of young blacks growing up without fathers is the true evil consigning the next generation of blacks to poverty or worse. Which is why role models are so important, and why whatever his politics, there was at least some good in young blacks seeing Jackson as a public figure. The net effect of Jackson on American politics was a great negative; but there was, at least, some good.

Now, any shred of good is gone, and the betrayal of the black community is all the more apparent - and all the more disgraceful. How Jackson will fare in the future is unknown, but his postmodern morality play is classic Clinton. (Who taught whom is the only remaining question, given that Jackson was Clinton's "spiritual adviser" while both were in the middle of torrid affairs with their workplace subordinates.)

Act One: Fight It. When Karin Stanford, Jackson's girlfriend, became pregnant, Jackson resisted taking responsibility for the child. He told the woman she had other boyfriends. He made her get a DNA test. To keep things quiet, she left the name of the father blank on the birth certificate. When Jackson's wife found out, she came to the office screaming. Jackson still denied it. He even put a note in the company newsletter saying that Stanford was leaving because she was pregnant with "her boyfriend's child."

Act Two: Responsibility is Something that Happens When You Get Caught. When Jackson knew that the story was going public, he held a press conference, declaring that "this is no time for evasions, denials or alibis." He said he has provided full "emotional and financial support" for the child. What kind of "emotional support" is an open question. Perhaps the blank name on the birth certificate is some indication of the Jesse Jackson approach to fatherhood.

Act Three: Narcissistic Regret. Now is the time to "revive my spirit," Jackson said. He appealed to his own troubled past as an illegitimate child - as if he were destined to behave the way he did. He asked forgiveness - the peculiarly postmodern kind that reduces his "mistake" to a personal failing and redefines remorse as "personal renewal." And so, even though he is a public figure, Jackson will not accept paying a real public price for what he has done, just like Clinton. Hence his sudden return to public life after pledging that he needed time away from the cameras and the protests and the phony trips to prison to heal his soul. Evidently, when you're Jesse Jackson, the soul heals quickly.

Chances are, in the post-Clinton age, Jackson will get away with all this unscarred, unless the black community that gives him his authority publicly disowns him as a leader. But sadly, if the response to Clinton is any precedent, Jackson will be bruised but not broken, and he'll most likely return just as powerful and popular and self-righteous as he has been for the last 30 years. Shame on him. Shame on all of us.

Copyright: 2001 National Review Online

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