A self-appointed conscience, badly bruised

Posted: Jan 23, 2001 12:00 AM
"The ground," says the Rev. Jesse Jackson, "is no place for a champion. The ground is no place that I will wallow on." Back to the fray -- the struggle "for social justice and inclusion." Did anybody doubt it for a minute? The Rev. Jesse Jackson has this mind-boggling theological gift. He self-absolves. He forgives himself. You can do that, apparently, when you believe the cause of racial justice depends uniquely on you. No time for the Rev. Jesse to grieve over having enlarged the already vast population of black children born out of wedlock -- a feat the media inconsiderately revealed last week. For a moment, the Rev. Jesse was rocked on his heels. He'd supposed hardly anyone else knew (save the Rainbow Coalition officials who helped him buy off the mother). He withdrew briefly from the spotlight. Then back he lurched, promising to "develop a rhythm that allows me to focus on family and the battlefield." OK. Adultery is a forgivable offense -- as per John 8:3-11 (look it up). Forgiveness isn't the problem here. The problem is the Rev. Jesse Jackson's eternal stance of moral superiority: Jesse Jackson as our national conscience; always right, never in the wrong; anointed to lead America into righteousness. It gets pretty old. Jesse Jackson conceding to those who understand things differently from himself is a sight you don't much see. The whole country -- to listen diligently to Jesse -- is rigged against minorities and, especially, blacks. You're a racist, or a collaborator in racism, if you question affirmative action (even if, like Ward Connerly, you're black). Expelling black high school students for fighting at a football game is racist. Republicans conspire to steal votes in Florida and go on repressing blacks. John Ashcroft's inattention to the Jackson agenda for race relations renders him unfit to be attorney general. Speaking a redemptive word about the Confederacy isn't possible for decent folk. What? Black families, and black children, at risk, due partly -- as social scientists note -- to widespread illegitimacy in black America? Couldn't be: not with Jesse Jackson, erstwhile campaigner for personal responsibility, scrambling onto the irresponsibility bandwagon. It turns out that racial righteousness in America may be defined as total agreement with Jesse Jackson. Those who do agree are largely Democrats of a port-side persuasion, amenable to twisting arms in behalf of failing inner-city public schools and of governmental favoritism on grounds of race and sex (among other things). Now, the First Amendment protects the right to say improbable, even demonstrably false, things. The trouble with Jesse isn't that he exercises his constitutional rights; it's that when he does so, he frequently trashes truth, reputations and prospects for harmony on terms other than his own. The whole of America is the reverend's poaching ground; "have tongue, will travel," is his unofficial motto. The point of Jesse's latest escapade isn't that -- back to John 8 -- the scribes and Pharisees should forthwith stone him; rather, that a public figure living in a glass house might himself want to refrain from throwing stones. Who is Jesse Jackson, in other words, to lecture Americans on moral matters? Jesse's race and verbal agility have been, up to now, his shield and buckler. Who can imagine Pat Robertson, irrespective of his record as husband and father, getting away with such stuff as Jackson routinely gets away with? Jerry Falwell, anyone? I thought not. Bidding the American people adieu (at least for a few hours), Bill Clinton the other day not unreasonably urged us to "weave the threads of our coat of many colors into the fabric of one America." Let me try another trope: civic relationships as a well rather than a coat. Someone sidles by the well, pours in a bottle of arsenic. Someone else drinks from the well and keels over. Wouldn't take long, would it, for the refreshment line to form elsewhere. Such, approximately, is the effect produced by Jesse Jackson's open contempt for the differently minded, and by his passion for meddling. His words poison the well of reconciliation. Agree or shut up. His way or the highway. Know what? That particular highway looks better and better.