Here's Jesse Jackson with Another Extremist Scheme

December 08, 1993|By DAVID SHRIBMAN

WASHINGTON. — WASHINGTON -- Jesse Jackson has a new revolutionary program that would shake America to its far extremities. It would change life as we know it. This revolutionary manifesto has five parts. It has no chance of becoming reality. It is too extreme.

The first principle is that parents should take their children to school. The second is that parents should meet their children's teachers. The third is that the parents and the teachers should exchange home telephone numbers. The fourth is that the parents should pick up their children's report cards.

And the fifth one -- the really revolutionary one -- is that parents should turn the television set off for three hours every evening.

This is the new Jesse Jackson -- revolutionary, to be sure; fiery and committed, certainly; unrealistic, of course. For a decade, Mr. Jackson -- agitator and exaggerater, often more beguiling for his rhymes than for his reason -- has ricocheted around America, a moth who discovered that the country had a thousand points of light. He stoked a lot of Americans' fears, but he also spoke to America's conscience.

Now Mr. Jackson knows what 250 million Americans have known all along: that he will never be president of the United States, that he is unlikely ever to negotiate the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade or to be a delegate to a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels, Belgium.

He is free, in other words, for more important work. He is free to spread revolution in America, where his five-point program might actually change the world for the better.

There is still a lot of self-indulgence in Jesse Jackson. There is still a lot of bluster. He still moves too fast into too many photo opportunities. He still dominates too many events.

He still has an irrepressible impulse to deliver a speech. (On a recent flight to Boston, he delivered a sermon lasting one hour and 40 minutes. I was in the seat beside him and thus played the role of congregation and choir. There is no confession in his church.)

And he seems not to care that the Rev. Al Sharpton, a New York firebrand, has moved into his coterie.

But Jesse Jackson is a force in American life, and he's determined to be remembered as a force for good. Now he's turning that force toward the biggest threats to national security: crime, the crises in the family and the schools.

A poll taken by Newsweek and the Children's Defense Fund puts a far different face on crime than that produced by the call-in shows and the Senate debate on the crime bill. This poll showed that 16 percent of white children feel unsafe in their neighborhoods after dark and that 34 percent of minority children feel that way.

It showed that 54 percent of white children say they are worried about some family member becoming a victim of violent crime -- and that 66 percent of minority children say that.

Mr. Jackson hears America worrying. ''Youth violence in general and black-on-black crime in particular is the frontier civil-rights issue of our time,'' he says.

So now he is becoming an evangelist against violence -- and against television. It's no secret that the average teen-ager has seen thousands of hours of television, and several hundred conflicts resolved with murder. ''Except,'' Mr. Jackson points out, ''when you're shot on television, ketchup flows and credits roll.'' In real life, the thing that rolls is the hearse.

This is a cause for mourning, and for anger, even bitterness. ''If white kids had killed each other [on this scale], we'd assume something is wrong with the system,'' Mr. Jackson says. ''If black kids kill each other like this, something must be wrong with them.''

Here there is common ground with Bill Clinton, who went last month to the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King preached his last sermon. The president said King would have been devastated if he had lived a quarter-century longer. '' 'I fought for freedom,' he would say, 'But not for the freedom of people to kill each other with reckless abandon.' ''

David Shribman is Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe.

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