Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What I Know About Jesse Jackson, Jr.

By John Nichols
December 14, 2008
Published by The Nation.

A lot of assumptions are being made with regard to Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

The Democratic representative from Chicago is, after 13 years in the House, earning the sort of attention accorded congressional leaders and presidential contenders. Unfortunately, it comes in the context of the scandal that has exploded around Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Blagojevich stands accused of "hanging a 'for sale' sign" on the Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

Jackson was as close as there was to a frontrunner in the competition for a gubernatorial appointment to the seat. He had been endorsed by the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Defender and other newspapers, as well as Progressive Democrats of America and individual activists who had come to know him as a champion in the struggle for peace and economic and social justice.

Jackson says that, when he met with Blagojevich on the eve of the governor's arrest, they spoke about those endorsements and the congressman's record--as well as his viability as a Democratic contender in the 2010 race to retain the seat. He denies that there was anything inappropriate about the discussion, and no evidence has surfaced to suggest that there was. But the fact of that meeting--and speculation about the prospect that an as-yet-unnamed "emissary" had promised fund-raising assistance to Blagojevich if he made the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson a senator--has made Congressman Jackson almost as big a player in the scandal discussion as the governor.

A lot of writers are making assumptions about Jackson.

As someone who has known the man for many years and written about him in a number of political and policy-making settings, I won't do that.

Rather, I'll offer some facts, and some hopes.

First, the facts:

Since his election to the House in a 1995 special election, Jackson has compiled one of the most consistently progressive and reform-oriented records in the chamber. He has clashed not just with the Bush administration and its economic-royalist allies but with Democrats who have chosen to compromise with those interests. As such, he has cost himself politically. Jackson's stands on principle have made it harder for him to raise money and to attain the powerful positions that are apportioned to those who go along to get along.

Jackson voted against authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq. But he went a lot further than that. He signed on for the lawsuit, filed by constitutional lawyer John Bonifaz, that argued Bush could not take the country to war without a full declaration from Congress.

Jackson voted against the Patriot Act. But he went a lot further than that. He joined then-Congressman Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, to promote legislation to exempt libraries and bookstores from having to comply with unwarranted federal demands for the reading lists of citizens.

Jackson condemned the U.S. Supreme Court intervention in the case of Bush-v-Gore, which shut down the Florida recount and handed the presidency to George Bush. But he went a lot further than that. One year after the 2000 election, when most Democrats were frightened to say anything negative about Bush in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, Jackson stood in front of the Supreme Court to challenge the legitimacy of the decision that made Bush president and to say, "The disputes in Florida and other states showed us that we need one national standard for voting and one national standard for counting votes. But they also reminded us that there are more basic reforms that are needed… Even though the right to vote is the supreme right in a democracy, the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore told Americans there is no explicit fundamental right to suffrage in the Constitution." And he proposed to amend the Constitution to establish that right, along with a right to have every vote counted in a verifiable manner.

Jackson condemned George Bush's free-trade agenda. But he went a lot further than that. He opposed free-trade deals promoted by former President Clinton and by Democratic leaders in the House. He even broke with leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1998 to oppose the African Growth and Opportunity Act. AGOA, as that deal was known, was dubbed "NAFTA for Africa" by the business press. Condemned by South African President Nelson Mandela and Africa trade unions that saw it as a move to make it even easier for multinational corporations to exploit the continent's workers and resources, AGOA was described by Jackson as the "Africa Recolonization Act." During the House debate on the issue, Jackson pointed out that, "The AGOA extends short-lived trade 'benefits' for the nations of sub-Sahara Africa. In exchange for these crumbs from globalization's table, the African nations must pay a huge price: adherence to economic policies that serve the interests of foreign creditors, multinational corporations and financial speculators at the expense of the majority of Africans."

The congressman asked, "Whose interests will the AGOA advance? Look at the coalition promoting it--a corporate who's who of oil giants, banking and insurance interests, as well as apparel firms seeking one more place to locate their low-paying sweatshops. Some of these corporations are already infamous in Africa for their disregard for the environment and human rights."

Does that sound like someone who is looking for an easy route to power? Like someone with lax ethics or a pay-to-play mentality?

Not to me.

And so I offer my hopes:

I hope Jesse Jackson Jr. gets a fair hearing over the coming days and weeks.

I hope that when the full truth is revealed he will be cleared.

I hope that he will be able to continue to serve in the House, and that he might eventually serve in the Senate.

Those hopes are based on what I know of Jesse Jackson Jr. and his service to the republic over the past 13 years--a service that I am not prepared to disregard until I have seen convincing evidence that he has betrayed the public trust.

The mad rantings of Rod Blagojevich, and the mountain of speculation that has been built upon them, are making a lot of noise.

For now, however, Jackson's record argues more loudly for giving him the benefit of the doubt

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