Jackson's sweet dream

By SCOT LEHIGH  |  March 7, 2008

There is, of course, the asterisk that clings to Jackson like a shadow, an asterisk that says, in barely discernible subtext beneath the polite print, “Of course, though this man is one of the leaders in the polls right now, he can’t win because he is black.” When a TV reporter asks him if he can win, Jackson is brusque. “Let’s concentrate on real substance, which is not race, but economic violence,” he says. And in yet another Democratic debate in Williamstown, Virginia, he gets the biggest hand of the day with his dignified objection to the question of whether the other candidates let him off easy because he is black. But Jackson is too cagey a politician not to realize this is an issue he must address, and in Hazard he makes a not so subtle point: “When GE clears out, when they take away your job, when they take away your farm, they turn the lights out.” A dramatic pause. “All of us look just alike in the dark.” Jackson goes on to perform a mini-skit of three Iowa farmers talking about all he had done to help them and others under the economic gun, only to have one constantly chime in, “Yeah, but he’s black.” Finally, the first says, “Yeah, but what you don’t understand is, the guy who’s taking our farms are white. We gotta go with who is right.” This crowd responds with a long, sustained tumultuous cheer. Roland Brown, a big, shaggy, lumbering white man missing most of his front teeth, appears to sum up the sentiment for this crowd when he says, “He is the only candidate for folks of my background. He is for the common man.”

Later, on the chartered jet carrying 20 or so reporters chronicling his gambols about the South, Jackson points to his fourth-place finish in lily-white Iowa (with 11 percent), his eight-percent fourth in New Hampshire, and his 20 percent second in Minnesota as evidence that this time, the Rainbow Coalition is truly polychromatic. “The barrier for me is access,” he says. “Where we have access, we almost always bring the barriers down.”

For the black community, Jesse Jackson has come to symbolize its fight against those barriers. Blacks feel about Jackson the way few whites have felt about a national politician since the days of Bobby Kennedy. At a packed $25-a-head fundraiser in Albany, Georgia, a crowd of 800 middle-class black people hush to black-church quiet, first listening and then intoning, “That’s right,” or “Tell ‘em, Jesse,” as Jackson speaks. In the back, Rhonda Johnson bobs her toddler, Rosalyn, whom she has brought to see this black man running for president. “Jesse is hope,” she says. “Hope that I, as a descendant of former slaves, can rise up regardless of my race and be anything. When you are a black person growing up with an ingrained inferiority complex, that there is only so far you can go. But Jesse always says, ‘I am somebody.’ That is what he is. He is hope, he is defiant.” In Lake City, Florida, Eddie Darby, an elderly black man who can remember the days of Jim Crow, the poll tax, and the back of the bus, puts it more simply. “It surely does make me proud,” he says. “It makes me feel great for him and happy.” Next to him, James Wilson, another black retiree, is painstakingly scrawling out a $10 check for Jackson. “It means a heap,” he says. “He go places other folks don’t go.”

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