NEW YORK -- In ways entirely unintended, Gov. Bill Clinton can thank Jesse Jackson, a man with whom he has been at odds all year, for the exalted place he now occupies as the Democratic Party's about-to-be presidential nominee.
Had Jackson decided to seek the Democratic nomination this year for the third straight time, it is questionable whether Clinton, after all the damaging allegations of personal misconduct against him, would have been able to rescue his beleaguered campaign with a sweep of the ensuing Southern primaries.
Clinton won an astonishing 80 percent or more of the black vote in those primaries -- a figure he certainly would not have achieved had Jackson been in the race. And while Clinton also did well among whites against former Sen. Paul Tsongas in the Southern states, it was the black vote that immediately restored him as the Democratic front-runner.
In his subsequent Northern industrial primary victories in Michigan and Illinois, Clinton again scored heavily among black voters, a feat that wasn't likely to have happened in either state had Jackson been running. In 1988, Jackson beat Michael Dukakis in Michigan and ran second to home-stater Paul Simon in Illinois.
Jackson also played an unwitting role in Clinton's victory over former Gov. Jerry Brown in the New York primary, a brutal contest from which Clinton emerged battered but in firm control of the Democratic nomination. Brown's statement that if nominated he would ask Jackson to be his running mate generated immense hostility toward Brown's candidacy in the politically influential New York Jewish community, to Clinton's benefit.
Clinton's success among black voters enables him to come to New York this week without having to pay homage to Jackson in the manner that so compromised his two predecessors as the party nominee, Dukakis and Walter Mondale. Each had to contend with a Jackson who had amassed an imposing black vote that he warned would be cooled off it he were not treated well.
Although Jackson never got much from either Dukakis or Mondale, the spectacle of their feeling obliged to negotiate with him after having beaten him decisively at the ballot box conveyed a debilitating sense of weakness. This time around, Jackson simply cannot intimidate a white nominee who has already demonstrated he can win black support without him.
Four years ago, it was unlikely a prospective Democratic nominee who felt he needed Jackson's active support would have been as outspokenly critical of a black entertainer at a Rainbow Coalition meeting, the way Clinton took on black rap artist Sister Souljah last month. In doing so intentionally, Clinton was telling Jackson that things were going to be different this time.
Clinton's success with black voters in the absence of a third Jackson presidential candidacy was not simply the product of the Arkansas governor's strongly supportive views on civil rights and his pleas for racial harmony. He owed a great deal to the backing of black political leaders other than Jackson, such as Mayors Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore, Maynard Jackson of Atlanta, Norman Rice of Seattle and Congressman John Lewis of Atlanta.
For some time, many black political leaders have been impatient with Jackson's dominance of the black political scene, concerned that so long as he manages to be seen by so many Americans as the unquestioned chief spokesman for blacks in this country, the development of a new generation of leaders will be thwarted. So Clinton's success without Jackson is welcomed by them.
All this does not mean that Jackson no longer has clout in the Democratic Party or that Clinton will not want his help between now and November in generating a large black turnout, in the South especially to capitalize on Ross Perot's expected erosion of President Bush's support there.
But Jackson already has been more help than he ever intended -- by passing up another run for the Democratic nomination himself -- to Clinton's rocky climb to the party leadership.
* Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey has been complaining bitterly about the party's unqualified commitment to abortion rights, which he just as unqualifiedly opposes. Despite much evidence to the contrary, Casey insists the that abortion issue cost the Democrats the last two presidential elections, by alienating culturally conservative, working-class Democrats.
But Casey failed to muster enough votes on the tightly controlled platform committee to bring a minority report on the issue to the convention floor when the platform is passed tomorrow night. So Casey began demanding a chance to address the convention.
National Chairman Ronald H. Brown turned him down on the grounds that no one would be allowed to address the convention unless he had endorsed the nominee.
But Casey is chairman of the Pennsylvania delegation, which means he will get the floor during Wednesday's nomination roll call.
At that point, he can say anything he likes.