Posted on February 24, 2010

Why Obama Should Reconcile With Rev. Jesse Jackson

Dr. Boyce Watkins, The Grio, February 23, 2010

Say what you want about Rev. Jesse Jackson, but the value of his legacy cannot be denied. Few have made the sacrifices Jackson has made, and few can match his historical significance when it comes to America’s quest for equality and civil rights. Every politician or American citizen who wishes to question the methods by which Jackson achieves his objectives need only compare his record to their own. Most politicians can’t say that they nearly died in order to serve their constituencies, but Jesse Jackson can certainly make such a statement.

What is important to understand about the legacy of Rev. Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and others is that most of what we know about these men has been presented through the lens of an American media construct that is conditioned to project negative imagery of black men. Therefore, when Bill Clinton has an affair, he’s just another philandering politician. When Jesse Jackson has an affair, he is considered unfit to lead. When Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Harry Reid say racially insensitive things about Obama, it becomes water under the bridge. When Rev. Jackson slips and makes a televised error, some have the audacity to argue that he is no longer relevant. The decision by some to toss out black leadership in exchange for a black president becomes mind boggling in light of the fact that our black president has made it abundantly clear that he has almost no interest in pursuing targeted advocacy for the African-American community.

I remember getting a call from Rev. Jackson the day after his fateful slip on Fox News during the 2008 presidential campaign. {snip} I immediately forgave him and put his mistake into context. I know that Rev. Jackson’s hurtful words toward Barack Obama were no different from the kinds of words being used behind closed doors by political figures every single day.


Given that several prominent figures on Capitol Hill have been guilty of embarrassing slips of the tongue, why in the world have we allowed President Obama to symbolically castrate and isolate one of the leading black political figures in American history?


The source of the double standard in Obama’s ability to forgive is the issue of power. Harry Reid, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and others can disrespect the president, embarrass him and attack him in racially-underhanded ways because President Obama has acknowledged the significance of these individuals. Given that many are advocating for a post-racial America, which we now know to be a silly concept, orchestrating the political death of Rev. Jesse Jackson is the most direct way to pursue that objective.

I am not sure how much President Obama rules with his head versus his heart. I am also not certain how important the African-American agenda coincides with Obama’s. {snip} Most significantly, it’s about understanding how the president balances his broader political legacy with the legacy of doing what’s right.

If the president wants to do what’s right, he will invite Rev. Jesse Jackson to the White House. {snip} President Obama doesn’t have to be Jackson’s buddy or political ally; he should only give him the respect of an elder statesman who has faithfully served the community that helped get him into the Oval Office. {snip}