Speaking in that indignant, abbreviated, sonorous singsong that puts little premium on articles or prepositions, Jackson condemns Reagonomics as “reverse Robin Hood,” a misguided plan premised on the notion “that the rich had too little money and the poor had too much money, and we could solve every foreign problem with military intervention.” But the people will persevere, Jackson says. “I am determined to come here to Kentucky to keep building this tremendous coalition,” he says. “Family farmers in rural Iowa, workers in snow-capped mountains of New Hampshire, farmers and workers in Minnesota, and now the people of Kentucky, to continue building this coalition. We the people, finding common ground, continue to grow.”
If Jesse Jackson’s campaign is to succeed, he must find, or build, that common ground, common ground that will link the interests of blacks and whites and everyone at the lower socio-economic reaches. The South, he says, has made great progress, but much remains to be done. The political violence is over, but the economic violence persists. “In eastern Kentucky, official unemployment, 18 percent. Real unemployment, 40 to 50 percent. The New South—50 percent of the people are in poverty. The New South: 50 percent of our children are economically deprived. The New South: high-school dropout rate over 50 percent.”
The problem Jackson says, launching into political parable, is economic barracudas that eat the small fish. In Jackson’s view, the barracudas are the big firms taking jobs offshore, and using cheap foreign labor to undercut American wages. “The number one importer from Taiwan is not Taiwan, it is GE,” he says. Detailing how GE has transferred jobs to that country at the expense of American workers, he continues, “In 1984, they made $10 billion, paid zero taxes, got $100 million tax rebates, while the workers on unemployment compensation had to pay taxes.” A pause. “My friends, that is not fair. We need Jackson Action.”
There is nothing timid, and little that is ambiguous, about Jackson Action. In a field of technocrats so scared of Ronald Reagan’s shadow that they are unwilling to redress the fundamental underpinning of Reagonomics—the tax cuts enshrined by the 1981 tax act—Jesse Jackson is an exception. “The people who had the party must pay for the party,” he says. “The tax breaks for the rich and the powerful put us in this hole. We must reverse Reagonomics to come out of this hole. Reverse it.” For Jackson, that means adding a 38 percent bracket for higher-income taxpayers and rolling back corporate tax breaks. He would also make substantial cuts in the defense budget, and demand that our allies assume more of the cost of their own defense. Jackson would use that money to pay for day care and health care, and any number of other social programs, for if he is a populist, Jesse Jackson is also an unrepentant and unreconstructed liberal. “I choose Head Start and day care on the front side of life over jail care and welfare on the back side,” he says, a line that has become a staple of every speech.
He wouldn’t stop there. Reverend Jesse Jackson does not worship at the altar of an unrestrained marketplace. He is determined to tame the barracudas. Alone among the candidates, he is talking about redefining the responsibilities of the American corporations. “Multinational corporations are raping the economy,” he told the Phoenix. “They are unrestrained for the most part, by any social contract with this country. We need fundamental change.