Jackson's sweet dream

By SCOT LEHIGH  |  March 7, 2008

“Capital does not follow conscience,” he continues. “It follows incentive. Government contracts should be let to companies on a priority basis to those that commit to retrain, reindustrialize, reinvest, and commit to research and development.” To discourage the use of low-cost foreign labor, he would insist on enforcement of trade laws that make the repression of workers’ rights an unfair trade practice.

On the stump he is less detailed, but no less direct. “We must fight for economic justice, for economic rights, for all of the American people,” he told Hazard. “When profits go up, wages must go up, housing must go up, health care must go up, education must go up.”

The clarity and consistency of those views are part of what has transformed Jesse Jackson from an angry young man whose candidacy split even the black community in 1984 into a candidate who is rapidly becoming the leading spokesman for the progressive-populist left, a candidate who can be counted on to speak a truth the others won’t. Former First Daughter Amy Carter caught another dimension of Jackson’s appeal Friday in endorsing him at the Georgia State House. Jesse, she said, “is the only candidate who is for women’s rights, who talks about justice for the Palestinians…the only candidate who is for gay rights, and he is the only candidate who talks about South Africa.” That’s not altogether true: corner a Mike Dukakis or a Paul Simon, or even a Dick Gephardt, and you might just get him to whisper his support for the ERA or to declare himself, sotto voce, in favor of gay rights—though you’d certainly never hear a peep about Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians. The real difference is this: the others will answer when asked. Jesse Jackson consistently speaks out in favor of those causes.

That is not, of course, to say that all of Jesse Jackson’s views are clear-eyed or cogent. Where he starts to worry people who would otherwise agree with him is in the realm of international affairs. There, his leftist political leanings translate into a worldview that tends to overlook legitimate American interests and to be too forgiving of leftist tyrants. For example, though his point that if we can talk to the USSR and China, we should be able to talk to Cuba is a reasonable one, Jackson nevertheless tends to be far too trusting of Castro. His 1984 toast to Castro—“Long live Cuba! Long live Fidel Castro! Long live Che Guevara!”—is hardly the mortal sin that right-wingers make of it. But his view, expressed in March of 1986, that “Cuba is central to peace in Central America, and a key to the Contadora process, because Castro is seen as the David who survived Goliath” suggests he would accord Castro a role in inter-American affairs that the Cuban dictator’s international behavior hardly warrants. Similarly, his assertion that Cuba is no worse than the US was 30 years after our revolution, when blacks were slaves and women were not yet enfranchised, is too tolerant of Castro’s widespread abuse of human rights. Not that Jackson is the only candidate who is raising doubts when it comes to foreign affairs; Mike Dukakis, for example, has said things that sound every bit as naïve. So far, though, this race has turned mostly on domestic issues, and there Jackson is decidedly more populist, more consistent, and more cogent than his rivals.

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