Is there anything more disengaged from reality than today's civil right's rhetoric? Consider, for example, the case of the Jackson Two.
The first Jackson, the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke at the 93rd annual meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People this week. He called President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft "the most threatening combination" to civil rights in his lifetime.
Now, Jackson was born in 1941. In the last 61 years we've seen some daunting combinations: Hitler and Tojo, Captain and Tennille, Darth Vader and the Emperor -oh wait, that Star Wars stuff happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, long before Jackson was born.
I know, I know: I'm deliberately misinterpreting Jackson's point. He was talking about African-Americans and the threats they face here at home. But, you know what? That assertion is batty too. George Wallace and J. Edgar Hoover formed a pretty daunting combo. So did Bull Connor and his dogs.
Meanwhile, the tag team of Bush and Ashcroft have done exactly nothing to threaten African-Americans -unless of course you think fighting terrorism, appointing blacks to the highest levels of government and letting Ted Kennedy write the administration's education policy is somehow the same thing as siccing German shepherds on black kids in Selma.
In other words, it's very hard to take Jackson seriously anymore. It's as if he lives in a galaxy far, far away himself. For example, in the same speech, Jackson denounced President Bush for comparing the recent Supreme Court school voucher decision to the historic desegregation case of Brown vs. Board of Education.
According to The Washington Times, Jackson called Bush's analogy "unliterate" and "fuzzy history."
As funny as it is, we can forgive the fact that "unliterate" isn't a word; everybody mispronounces things from time to time including, alas, our own "threatening" president. But Jackson's standing as a Constitutional authority is so low, he needs a ladder to look over the edge of the gutter.
Jackson's the guy who constantly compared the Supreme Court's involvement in the Florida recount to the infamous Dred Scott case that upheld slavery in the United States in 1857. In fact, Jackson invokes Dred Scott whenever he doesn't like a Supreme Court case. So while it might be a bit of an exaggeration for Bush to compare the Cleveland voucher decision to Brown vs. Board of Ed. (both cases did open doors for black children), Jackson's use of Dred Scott is so unliterate and historically fuzzy, it makes me think someone needs to check his prescription medicine.
Now consider the other member of the Jackson duo. Just days before Jesse's speech to the NAACP, singer Michael Jackson held a rally in New York to denounce his "exploitation" at the hands of the white-run music industry. The best paid artist in the music industry, whose net worth was estimated to be over a quarter billion dollars at one point, said that Thomas Mottola, the chairman of Sony's music
division, took advantage of him.
"He's a racist, and he's very, very, very devilish," Jackson said. That's three "verys" which is three times more devilish than just plain "devilish." But Jackson really took off the glove and played tough, asking the modest crowd of supporters to encourage Mottola to "go back to hell." The evidence of Mottola's racism, just so you know, lay in the fact that after he bankrolled Jackson's latest album to the tune of $26 million, he didn't promote it enough (i.e. spend another $20 million or $30 million on it).
Jackson also said his case is just another example of an industry-wide conspiracy to exploit black artists. It might strike some of us as odd that a man who could afford to buy the Beatles' catalog, a full-body bleaching, as well as the silence of numerous children who got more than they bargained for at Jackson's Neverland ranch could claim victim status.
But it didn't strike Al Sharpton as odd. He joined Jackson at the rally in order to amplify Jackson's racism charges. But even Sharpton quickly backed down and repudiated Michael's comments the next day, reportedly because he'd heard from many black artists who said, in the felicitous phrase of The New York Post, "Jacko is Wacko" and this was little more than a desperate case of racial blackmail, or in Jackson's case, beige-mail. As Donna Brazille, the former Gore campaign manager, put it on CNN the other day, "I didn't know Michael Jackson was black again."
While it's tempting to be outraged by the cynicism of the Jackson Two, the more appropriate response is relief. You see, such desperation is a clear indication that the battle for civil rights has been won. These tired has-beens have to imagine transgressions because there are no real ones to complain about. It's sad for them, but happy news for the society as a whole.