Nor does the suggestion that a vote for Jesse Jackson may be a vote for a man who can’t win deter blacks. “If he were white, he would probably have won in ’84,” says Wallace Webster, a professor of education at Albany State College. “If he doesn’t run, he certainly won’t win,” Wallace continues, somewhat reproachfully. “If we don’t vote for him, he certainly won’t win. If not Jesse, who? If not now, when?”
That’s a much different reaction from that which greeted Jackson’s announcement in 1984, when the black leadership, and at least initially, the black community, was sharply split between Jackson and former vice-president Walter Mondale. This time, those black leaders who aren’t with Jackson are careful to avoid the sort of criticism of his run that NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks (now a supporter) leveled in ’84. For example, Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, a long-time Jackson rival whose endorsement of Mondale in ’84 won him a round of boos from blacks at the Democratic convention, is quick to deny that tensions between Jackson and him are the reason behind his decision to stay neutral. “I encouraged his running,” he told the Phoenix last week. “I just don’t think that all blacks ought to be in one camp.” Congressman John Lewis (D-Atlanta), another prominent black who has opted to remain neutral, cites as his reason his city’s role as host to this year’s convention.
If some of the black leadership remains unconvinced, the black rank-and-file does not. That vote promises to go overwhelmingly with Jackson, which all but assures him of victory in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, and gives him very good shots at winning in Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina. If Jackson manages to draw even the eight to 10 percent of the white vote he was earning in the North before his strong Minnesota finish (second with 23 percent) and his startling Maine (second with 28 percent) and Vermont (second with 27 percent) showings, he might just win Arkansas, as well.
Can Jesse Jackson be nominated? He certainly has a better shot than Illinois Senator Paul Simon, who was the Iowa frontrunner last fall. And he has a better shot than Tennessee Senator Al Gore, whose “the South will rise again” strategy promises to begin and effectively end his candidacy in the space of 12 short hours on March 8. Jackson’s last three primary showings have far exceeded anything the conventional wise men had thought possible. And a new Time magazine poll shows that Americans judge him as good or better than the other candidates in most of the qualities Americans look for in a president: strength, trustworthiness, compassion, ability to deal with Russia and conduct international relations, and image. “We can’t allow them to make us stop dreaming,” Jackson told a packed fundraiser in Jacksonville, Florida. Jesse Louis Jackson hasn’t. His is a dream that depends on the basic fairness and decency of the American people. It’s a dream whose confidence in America has increasingly been rewarded. The barriers remain formidable. But so far, Jackson has succeeded beyond anything anyone but he thought possible just a few short months ago. His success, far more than the smarmy and tedious made-for-television Horatio Alger tales the other candidates proffer, speaks about the emerging possibilities in America, for Jesse Jackson’s is truly the American dream.