Anyone interested in how the American civil rights movement has degenerated needs to read Jesse Jackson's recent interview in the Chicago Sun-Times.
The interview itself is one of those texts that, like Shakespeare and the Bible, should be read more than once. No single reading can do justice to the picture of hypocrisy, greed, megalomania and corruption the Rev. Jackson unwittingly paints when discussing his increasingly tangled affairs. Here are some highlights:
Last year, Jackson billed the charities he controls $614,000 for "travel expenses." When asked to explain this extraordinary figure, he says that he often spends more than 200 days per year traveling on charitable business. Yet even if we make the charitable assumption that this figure doesn't include any direct padding of Jackson's self-reported $430,000 annual income, this still works out to nearly $3,000 per day.
Do the contributors to Jackson's charities (which includes everyone who pays taxes) realize the Reverend claims to spend the bulk of his working days traveling in a style that would embarrass the Rolling Stones?
In recent years, Jackson has spent much of his time opposing mergers in the broadcast and telecommunications industries _ mergers that require federal approval. The Sun-Times explains that Jackson "withholds his approval until the companies meet his demands for greater minority participation."
On a remarkable number of occasions, "minority participation" ends up meaning "Jesse Jackson's friends and business associates." For example, Jackson opposed the CBS-Viacom merger but let it be known that his opposition would disappear if Viacom were to sell its UPN network to Chester Davenport or Percy Sutton, both longtime friends of his.
The Sun-Times reports "Jackson also blocked the SBC-Ameritech merger until Ameritech agreed to sell part of its cellular phone business to a minority owner, who turned out to be Davenport." "The price you pay for our support," Jackson says, "is to include us."
Of course, the Reverend wants people to think he means "the African-American community" when he refers to "us." A mountain of evidence suggests the pronoun should be given a somewhat more limited meaning. (In yet another example of what Jackson means by the politics of inclusion, his Citizenship Education Fund has gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from telecommunications companies whose mergers he initially opposed.)
Charity, as they say, begins at home. One of Jackson's highest-profile boycotts was of Anheuser-Busch. Three years ago, Anheuser-Busch's warm feelings for the Jackson family overflowed to the point where the corporation gave Jackson's sons a beer distributorship.
When the Sun-Times asks if there might be any connection between the boycott and the awarding of the distributorship the Reverend becomes mightily offended. "If Bush is qualified to run the country, they are qualified to run a beer distributorship" he thunders, employing a typically spurious bit of demagoguery. "They should not be profiled or otherwise suggestions dropped that they are less than able to do what they do. That is very insulting to me. Very insulting."
This is a truly priceless bit of racialist bluster. Notice Jackson doesn't even bother to address whether the distributorship may have been a payoff. Instead, he switches the topic to the racially loaded question of whether his sons were "qualified." Qualified for what _ to join their father in enjoying the fruits of the racial protection game? There's no need to feel insulted, Reverend: Nobody doubts they were.
There is much more along these lines, including details of how Illinois' Republican Gov. George Ryan appears to have bought Jackson's political support. All this leads to a simple question: How can a man who at this point retains all the moral authority of a professional extortionist continue to hold himself out as one of America's political and spiritual leaders?
Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado.
Scripps Howard News Service