Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jesse Jackson & Barack Obama

It must be painful for Reverend Jesse Jackson to watch Barack Obama succeed where he failed, i.e. become the first black to be the presidential candidate of a major party. It must be painful for Jackson to watch Obama win the Democratic Party's nomination without any help from him who was the self-appointed spokesman for black Americans for so many years. It must be painful for Jackson to feel that he has been pushed aside as irrelevant, though he's been irrelevant for a long time and doesn't seem to have gotten the news.

Thus, it is not entirely surprising that on Sunday, July 6, Jackson was waiting to be interviewed on Fox News and an open microphone overheard him whisper to a guest, "See, Barack's been talking down to black people. I want to cut his nuts off."

Jackson was referring to Obama's Father's Day speech at a black church in which he criticized black fathers: "We need them to realize what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child -- it's the courage to raise one." Jackson thought Obama's context was too narrow in that he failed to mention the effect that high levels of unemployment, home foreclosures and violence have on black men. "We have some real serious issues -- not just moral issues," Jackson contended. But this is not the first time Jackson has attacked Obama. Last fall he criticized Obama for "acting like he's white."

When I learned of Jackson's ugly and self-serving remark, I thought of Hillary and Bill Clinton. I remembered the various comments and outbursts by Bill Clinton that certainly hurt his and Hillary's esteem in the eyes of blacks. At the time I thought that, unconsciously, Bill was trying to undermine Hillary's campaign.

Our behavior as humans is not always governed by what we think we believe. The Socratic admonition to "Know thyself" is daunting because knowing ourselves means seeking to be aware of what is unconscious within us. Jackson's unconscious envy and resentment of Obama led him to express it where there was an open microphone.

While I can understand the political expediency in Obama having the Clintons campaign for him, I fear what lies in their unconscious. I fear that their anger and resentment that Obama ran a better and more well-organized campaign will find expression when there happens to be an open microphone around, that they will find some way to sabotage Obama as I think Bill sabotaged Hillary.

The simple fact is that Jackson and the Clintons had their days in history. They should be satisfied that they did their jobs as well as they could, and that they helped prepare the way for someone like Obama.

But Jackson and the Clintons ceased to grow in their thinking, ceased to expand their visions of what it means to be an American in 2008. They don't seem to realize that fifty years have passed since 1968. Believe it or not, the nation has moved from "We Shall Overcome" to "We Are Overcoming."

© 2008 by Julius Lester

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You wrote "They don't seem to realize that fifty years have passed since 1968." You mean 40, of course.

Don't scare me like that! I thought I had suddenly aged 10 years.