What Next for Jackson?

GARRY WILLS

April 19, 1993|By GARRY WILLS

As a longtime admirer of Jesse Jackson's genuine achievements in the past (achievements too often underestimated), I am grieved at the spectacle he is making of himself.

Mr. Jackson used to have, it seemed, a cause of the week. Now it is a cause of the day, or even of the hour. He said he was going to fast for the dying Haitians who seek entry into this country and treatment for AIDS. But Mr. Jackson dropped that to run off after other goals -- jockeying for an assured shot at the leadership of the NAACP, picketing the opening game of the Baltimore Orioles when the president brought the cameras to it.

It does not seem to strike him that he trivializes a life-and-death matter like the Haitians' crisis when he runs from it to the important but far less urgent matter of black managers in baseball.

Mr. Jackson rose beyond everybody's expectations but his own. He expected to be the vice presidential nominee last year. An ex-aide wrote a memorandum, going into the 1992 campaign, that argued Democrats could win only with him on the ticket. Mr. Jackson hoped the Democratic nominee would heed that memo, especially if he were someone favored by Mr. Jackson at the early stages (like Tom Harkin).

Even after his clashes with Mr. Clinton, he hoped that Mr. Clinton would come to him for needed support, if not with a spot on the ticket. When Mr. Clinton won without any special help from Mr. Jackson, it not only refuted all the premises of that troublesome memo, it also seems to have made Mr. Jackson desperate for the attention that is passing him by.

Mr. Jackson refused to run for a lesser office like that of the mayor of the District of Columbia for fear it would dim his prospects for someday becoming president, prospects that grew more enticing to him as they proved ever less realistic. He is the best living example of the Aesop dog who drops the bone in his mouth out of yearning for the magnified reflection of it in murky water. It is a recurring story of human wishes, not the less sad for being familiar.

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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