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2008-01-07

"I Respect the Distance He is Trying to Create"–Jesse Jackson on Why He Supports But Hasn’t Been Asked to Campaign for Obama

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Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

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The Reverend Jesse Jackson and his son, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., support Barack Obama, but his other son, Yusuf, is a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, and his wife has just cut a radio ad for her. Why isn’t Jesse Jackson out stumping for his man? He hasn’t been asked. "I respect the distance [Obama] is trying to create for his own strategic purposes," Jackson tells Democracy Now! [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A house divided: Reverend Jesse Jackson and his son, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., support Barack Obama, but his other son, Yusuf, is a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, and his wife has just cut a radio ad for Clinton.

Why isn’t Jesse Jackson out stumping for his man? Well, he hasn’t been asked, he says.

Reverend Jackson’s name has come up several times in relation to Senator Obama’s historic victory in the Iowa caucus Thursday night. The comparison is not surprising, given Reverend Jackson was the first African American man to run a national presidential campaign. In 1988, he won thirteen caucuses and primaries in states across the country, including those with a large white majority like Michigan and Vermont.

But many pundits like to draw a contrast between Jackson and Obama. Former Education Secretary and conservative radio talk show host William Bennett was on CNN minutes after Senator Obama was declared the victor in Iowa. Bennett said Obama had “taught the black community you don’t have to act like Jesse Jackson."

    WILLIAM BENNETT: 97% in fact, Iowa, rural white, farming state. Barack Hussein Obama, a black man, wins this for the Democrats. I have been watching him. I watched him on Meet the Press. I watched him on your show, watched him on all the CNN shows. He never brings race into it. He never plays the race card. Talk about the black community, he has taught the black community you don’t have to act like Jesse Jackson, you don’t have to act like Al Sharpton. You can talk about the issues. Great dignity. And this is a breakthrough, and good for the people of Iowa.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Reverend Jackson has not publicly campaigned for Barack Obama, but his wife, Reverend Jackson’s wife, Jacqueline Jackson, is endorsing Hillary Clinton, and she just cut a radio spot in support of Senator Clinton’s campaign in South Carolina.

    JACQUELINE JACKSON: This is Jacqueline Jackson. My husband, Reverend Jesse Jackson, is a native of South Carolina. Let me tell you why I decided to support Hillary Clinton for president. As a mother and a grandmother, I know that raising children begins and ends at home. It begins with a loving family that builds esteem. It ends with a woman’s touch that inspires children to make their dreams a reality. That’s why this election is so important. It’s also why I believe Hillary Clinton is by far the most qualified candidate to be president in these tough times.

    Hillary believes that the way we treat our children reflects our nation’s values. For thirty-five years, Hillary has fought for families. As First Lady, she fought for universal healthcare and fought just as hard to pass the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Women are used to making difficult choices, but this is easy, because it’s about what’s best for our families. Join me in supporting Hillary Clinton.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I’m Hillary Clinton, candidate for president, and I approve this message.

    NARRATOR: Paid for by Hillary Clinton for President.

AMY GOODMAN: A radio ad by Reverend Jackson’s wife, Jacqueline Jackson, in support of Hillary Clinton. I interviewed Reverend Jackson Sunday after his radio show and began by asking whether he supported Senator Obama, even though he is not publicly endorsing his campaign.

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: I said I would vote for him unsolicited. He didn’t ask me for it. I thought it was the right side of history I chose to be on. On the other hand, my son Yusuf and Jackie — Jackie has had a long relationship with Hillary Clinton, and she chose not to stray away from it. She has a passion for working with children. In Hillary’s work with Marion Wright Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund, her work in the Delta of Arkansas and Mississippi, her work with children while in the White House, her trips back and forth to Africa has created with her and Jackie a certain bonding. And so, like many households, it’s one-two — Barack, one, Hillary, two; Hillary, two, Barack, one. So it’s the same in my household, as well.

    AMY GOODMAN: So your wife does an ad for Hillary Clinton. Have you been asked to do an ad for Barack Obama?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: I have not.

    AMY GOODMAN: Would you?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: If I were asked. But then, he has determined strategically how he wants to place his supporters, and I accept that. It’s not a big issue. I think the issue now is if this multiracial, multicultural coalition continues to grow, if young people move away from so much self-destruction and self-gratification to a public policy involvement, that is the ultimate victory for America. I mean, after all, who is to fight the fight to end the war, except young people in the streets of America, if they choose those streets? Who is to fight the fight for a new — for reducing — for increasing Pell grants? Who is to fight the fight to stop the drug consumption addiction we have, which is — which drive the drug supply trade in the world? When young America changes its mind and its appetite and its values, it has the power to change the world.

    AMY GOODMAN: The significance of Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, it has first an historic significance. I mean, an African American winning Iowa, while white Iowans were intuitive enough in their thinking to choose message and relationships over race, is a big deal, because there were those who would say, don’t go to Iowa and New Hampshire because they’re not representative of the multicultural states, but so that said a lot to me about the maturing of America.

    I could not help but think about the struggle to get to that point. Many journalists think it came down from the sky and it started, you know, in Boston. But this journey from the ’54 Supreme Court decision to end legal apartheid in this country, having succeeded slavery, was a big moment in American history. Then in ’55, there’s the lynching of Emmett Till, which traumatized and woke up America. And then, out of that, four months later, the sit-in of Rosa Parks and the emergence of Dr. King. And then, the 1960 students coming alive and risking and sitting in and going to jail, leading toward the ’63 march, where Dr. King laid out his dream of hope for the nation, and the climax in the next year in the ’64 public accommodations bill.

    But then, that same ’64, as hope kept rising politically, Fannie Lou Hamer and that group at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, challenged the liberal Democratic structure of Mondale and Humphrey and Johnson in ’64. And then, while we supported the Democrats, they didn’t have as their platform the Voting Rights Act. Johnson said to Dr. King, when asked about the Voting Rights Act, “Dr. King, I like you very much, but you can’t get the Voting Rights Act. The reality is, politically, that if we get the Voting Rights Act, we’ll lose the South a quarter of a century.” Dr. King said, “Well, we have to get the Voting Rights Act,” and so we marched in Selma, Alabama to get the Voting Rights Act. And the blood of the people and, of course, their struggle has spawned everything politically, the ’65 Voting Rights Act.

    And then, the [inaudible], at that time, a black mayor of [inaudible] was a national story. The black mayor of Cleveland, Carl Stokes, was a novelty, was a national story at that time. And it continued to grow. And by ’72, we challenged the McGovern rules. If you recall, we unseated the delegation, as we sought to have a more multicultural seating of delegates from states in ’72. And by ’83, Harold Washington was running for mayor, and Mondale and Kennedy came in to defeat him with Jane Byrne and Daley. And we resisted that, and it was tension between our growth and the process.

    And out of that, it drove me, in fact, to run in ’84 and ’88. And we kept expanding up on that coalition, and we won with new registered voters, new voters; Democrats regained the Senate in ’86; in the South, we won North Carolina and Louisiana and Alabama and Florida. By ’88, we expanded that base, and Doug Wilder became governor in ’89 — we won Virginia in ’88 — while Dave Dinkins became mayor of New York in ’89 — we won New York in ’88. And so, this thing has just continued.

    So when the media says, well, Barack was not a part of the civil rights struggle, he’s a beneficiary of it, not a benefactor of it, but each generation becomes beneficiary and then benefactor. This year he’s a beneficiary of that struggle; next time, those who came in because of him, they’ll be the beneficiaries, he’ll be the benefactor. But the struggle continues. And so, from the ’54 end of apartheid to the Voting Rights Act, to the urban breakthroughs, to Harold Washington, the ’84 and ’88 campaigns, to me, this is historic, a non-broken line.

    And I might add, even the party resisted supporting Free Mandela. We were on the side of the South African government. We thought that was our security. So I think it’s a great moment for American democracy.

    AMY GOODMAN: And the fact that he doesn’t say things like civil rights or race, talks about unifying America, though he did mention Selma and Montgomery.

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, there’s a sense in which many Americans want to focus on racial reconciliation, and they ignore racial justice and racial equality. And you cannot ultimately get past those concerns. We do so well on the football field with black and white, and we choose uniform color over skin color, because you can have racial reconciliation there because it’s about the playing field is even, the rules are public, the goals are clear.

    But Barack does not remind America of the unfinished business very much of racial justice, racial equality, but he need not. It’s self-evident that that needs to happen. I’m concerned that today there’s a state of emergency in black America. 2.2 million Americans in jail, and a million are black, and that’s a big deal. Six million Americans have lost their right to vote because they’ve been to prison, six million, overwhelmingly black. This mortgage foreclosure crisis, evidence of targeting and steering and redlining along racial lines, that product, while aimed at blacks and Latinos, which opened the floodgates in the hull of the ship, is now at the deck of the ship and sinking banks. But it started from the rights of blacks and Latinos being unprotected by law. So civil rights law really does matter.

    But he embodies that change. In some sense, he embodies the global community, with his Kenyan father and his white mother and his Harvard education. And so, a combination of his embodying the globe and embodying that change gives him a leg up on a kind of authenticity, a kind of moral authority that makes him exciting to this generation. This is the most multicultural generation America has ever produced, the most immigrants, most active young people, who have a desire for the change that it seems that he embodies.

    AMY GOODMAN: In terms of your support for Barack Obama, I was just watching William Bennett, the former Education Secretary, on television saying, you know, here’s a man who doesn’t talk about race, talking about Barack Obama, not like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Do you think that’s the same reason Barack Obama hasn’t asked you to campaign?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: I do not know, except people like Bennett, George Will, they long to choose the black voice of their choice. They were not pro-Martin Luther King supporters, either. They accept him as a martyr, but they did not accept him as a leader. After all, the letter from Birmingham jail was written to the white evangelicals of that day, who had nothing to say about public segregation, but a lot to say about Dr. King being in Birmingham as a quote/unquote “outside agitator.” The letter from Birmingham jail challenged the tradition of Bennett.

    And people who speak that way — now it’s Barack, rather than Jackson — they see black America through a keyhole, like one of us at a time. But there is room for all of us to function in our spheres of work. We had John Kennedy. It didn’t mean we didn’t need Dr. King to lead a drive for public accommodations. We had Johnson, a progressive guy. It didn’t mean we didn’t need our drive — need for the right to march for the right to vote in Selma, Alabama. So even if you get a black or a woman in the White House, the drive for workers’ right to organize and therefore labor leaders’ need for gender equality to support Title IX, the need to protect Roe v. Wade, the need for our civil rights, the need for Native American rights, these struggles will continue. The difference is that you will have someone in the White House who is not hostile to the interests of those struggles, but they must be led by people bottom-up, not top-down.

    AMY GOODMAN: And the victory of Huckabee, another Reverend, like yourself?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, it seemed that he represented a kind of authenticity, that he did not back away from what he believed in, and it resonated with people in Iowa. At some point, it seemed that Romney’s campaign was so well-moneyed and so smooth, it was almost slick and that Huckabee seemed to have embraced the grassroots spirit, and, of course, he’s a very articulate and smart guy, and he made his credentials argument.

    Also, an organized minority is a political majority. This is Iowa. He took the fervor of his group, and they won. Will that further carry over into New Hampshire? Let’s see how broad — he speaks a lot of populist messages. How — is it believable? We’ll see in New Hampshire, different than Iowa. And then when he comes to South Carolina, that will become, to me, the real test for the breadth of Huckabee’s message. [inaudible] in Arkansas, for example, he relates across racial lines. He relates to black people and white people and church people and non-church people, so you find in him a guy who has religious convictions and fairly broad views.

    AMY GOODMAN: We had Danny Glover on the other day with a Hillary supporter and a Barack Obama supporter. Danny Glover, of course, has been stumping around the country for John Edwards. And when you look at John Edwards’s speech in Iowa, when he came in second, he was talking concrete. He was talking poverty. He was talking about homeless veterans. He was opposing the war. He was talking about poverty. He was talking about healthcare. There was a big difference with the other candidates.

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, in New Orleans, he opened his campaign in New Orleans in the Ninth Ward, trying to make the kind of Jimmy Carter statement: the Southern white working class and blacks have shared interests. At some point, the message of the two Americas, after it got lost in the Hillary chase, in the attack, so much of that message got lost in, I thought, in the campaign. But now he seems to be going back to it again. It’s really what gives him distinction, because in the end, it is the issue of poverty, growing illiteracy, the jail-industrial complex and poverty, that threaten to cripple our nation’s growth.

    AMY GOODMAN: You’re having a meeting on the state of black America under siege. You would not get that sense at all from these debates.

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, it is under siege, when you think about the black infant mortality rate is highest and life expectancy is the shortest. In several states, the number one industry is the jail-industrial complex for profit, overwhelmingly black, in part driven by these laws set up for blacks: the crack cocaine sentencing disparity — five grams of crack, federal crime; five hundred grams of powder, probation —- the educational funding disparity, the healthcare disparity.

    The ghetto and the barrio are subprime zones, where you pay more for less, live on the stretch and don’t live as long. And there is no apparent commitment to address equating urban and suburban schools. There’s apparently no commitment to stop the schools-to-jail pipeline. There is no apparent commitment to invest in urban America. If we invested in rebuilding bridges and roads and levees and removing lead paint, that alone would put people back to work in a very meaningful way. And, of course, I long for a commitment to an urban policy, because it costs less to educate than to incarcerate. Sick bodies cost more than healthy bodies, and we know that education must start at pre-natal care, and there must be a real commitment, education and daycare on the front side. It costs less than jail care, and we offer it on the backside. I long for that message.

    AMY GOODMAN: So you would go out on the campaign trail for Barack Obama if he asked you to?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, I would have to discuss that with him. He has not asked me to. That’s not an issue for me, frankly. My issue right now is -—

    AMY GOODMAN: Has he asked you not to?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: No. And I tell you that I respect the distance he is trying to create for his own strategic purposes, and I accept that.

    AMY GOODMAN: What is that? Why is that?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: I don’t know. I know in the meantime, on January 22nd, we are marching on HUD, because the number one economic crisis of our time has to be this huge bank meltdown and three-plus million Americans facing foreclosure and auctions and evictions. Whole communities are going to sink under the economic recession.

AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Jesse Jackson. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. He was a presidential candidate twice, the first African American man to run a national presidential campaign. When we come back, we go to New Hampshire, where students have flooded the state in the first primary, coming up tomorrow. Stay with us.

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