Well, well. The Reverend Jesse Jackson seems to be losing his halo. His penitential retirement from his “public ministry” lasted less than a single weekend.
On the Sunday after the Thursday he made lurid headlines, Jackson announced that he was ready to resume his ministry. Breaking Bill Clinton’s record for rapid repentance, he had, within hours, confessed his sins, turned over a new leaf, healed his family wounds, showered, changed his suit, and leaped back into the pulpit. The public barely had time to notice his absence. Seldom has spiritual regeneration occurred at such a hectic pace.
No doubt Jackson realized it would sound funny for him to show up in Washington on Saturday protesting G.W. Bush’s inauguration as “illegitimate” two days after the revelation that he had begotten a wee one on a woman other than Mrs. Jackson. The timing was wrong. The public’s memory is notoriously short, but not quite that short.
Nor did it help Clinton that, on the day of his farewell address to the nation, his “spiritual counselor” during the contrition phase of the Lewinsky saga should grab the front pages with his own sex scandal. Clinton’s presidency might make a great comedy: Ferris Bueller Goes to Washington, with Jeffrey Jones, who played the principal in the original, as the special prosecutor. As you’ll recall, even the people who knew exactly what Ferris was up to were totally ineffectual in their attempts to catch him out. As with Clinton, it was always Ferris’s friends who wound up in hot water.
Clinton’s departure was further blemished when, on his last day in office, he became the first president to plea-bargain his way out of an indictment. The scene wouldn’t have been complete without Clinton’s final attempt to spin his admission of perjury with a bit of double-talk denying that his false statements under oath were lies.
Jackson’s ostensibly manly statement of contrition turned out to be, well, Clintonian. Not only did his withdrawal from public life end as soon as it began; his claim that he was providing for the wee one was also a little dubious. He has apparently “provided” plenty, including a quiet move to Los Angeles, a big house, and several thousand dollars a month. Is this support for the child or hush money for the mother? And did it come out of his own personal pocket or out of the tax-exempt funds of his “ministry”?
Like Clinton, Jackson has now exposed himself as a comic rascal. His demotion in the public eye has been made official by Jay Leno, who has shown no mercy and extended none of the courtesy accorded, even by irreverent comedians, to black men of the cloth who are styled “civil rights leaders.”
Dubbing Jackson “Action Jackson,” Leno has asked whether he was really counseling Clinton: “It sounds more like Clinton was counseling him!” Leno also notes that Jackson has given new meaning to affirmative action: she asks, “Do you want some action?” and he answers, “Affirmative.”
Jackson has suddenly tumbled to the Al Sharpton level. It’s unlikely that his birthday will ever become a national holiday, and the recent disclosures about him may be just the beginning. As a hypocrite and Clinton crony he has made himself fair game for muckraking, and we will probably learn further details of his romantic and financial affairs, and of how they are intertwined.
More specifically, is this really the first and only woman Jackson has had to pay off during his 38-year marriage? The corporations he has shaken down for money over the years may take a special interest in getting to know the real Jesse Jackson, the man behind the endless crusade for “social justice” in the form of fat checks. Nobody has asked how much of that money has actually reached the downtrodden and how much has gone to support the flamboyant Jackson lifestyle.
In the end Jackson may take his place not in the history of civil rights but in the colorful American tradition of tycoons of the pulpit: Father Divine, Reverend Ike, Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart. Some of these men came to bad ends, but none of them starved to death.