Jackson broadside focuses on Clinton as the problem

February 18, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- Since there never was a honeymoon between Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton, we cannot say it is now over.

But after Jackson's attack on Clinton yesterday, we can say the two now seem to have irreconcilable differences.

Jackson's speech was supposed to have been about black-on-black crime, but he barely touched on that subject. Instead, he identified the real problem facing America:

The current president of the United States.

In rhetoric he used to reserve for Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Jackson blistered Clinton for the better part of an hour.

And any credit you might want to give Bill Clinton -- for an economic recovery, let's say -- well, that credit is misplaced.

"The administration embraces a recovery that it did not cause, while abandoning a covenant it did not keep," Jackson said. "Poverty is deepening, inequality is growing, hope is shrinking."

And what principles does Clinton follow in order to lead the nation? None that are apparent.

"Posturing and positioning supplants principles and policy," Jackson said in a blizzard of alliteration. "Polls dictate poses; poses define priorities."

What about Clinton's crime platform?

"Mock tough," Jackson said. "Filled with bumper sticker gimmicks that will waste money and have no effect on crime."

Clinton's welfare reform?

Race-based, Jackson said.

"The attention paid to welfare has to do with racial politics, not national policy," he said, speaking to a lunch crowd of about 100 at the National Press Club. (A strangely small crowd: Arnold Schwarzenegger drew about three times that last year.)

And Jackson used that one adjective that Clinton is truly sensitive about: "slick."

"But slick too often doesn't slide through," Jackson said.

He said Clinton takes credit for creating jobs, but that the "unemployment of African-Americans is going up, not down."

One reason is racism, Jackson said, and then, in a reference to the recent controversy over statements by Louis Farrakhan and his national spokesman, Jackson said: "Race rhetoric is offensive; racism from a nation is deadly."

"We need an urban policy and economic development plan," he went on. "Instead we are going the other way."

Jackson owes nothing to Clinton and vice versa. Clinton and Gore were both members of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group formed after the 1984 presidential election and committed in part to reducing the influence of Jesse Jackson on Democratic politics.

The group believed that as long as the Democratic presidential nominee kowtowed to Jackson, the nominee would never capture enough votes in a general election to win.

And throughout his 1992 campaign, Clinton kept Jackson from being the one thing Jackson wanted to be: a factor.

So, in the end, Jackson was left with his CNN talk show and with being the "shadow" senator from Washington, D.C., which means being a lobbyist for D.C. statehood.

But Jackson's speech yesterday clearly was coming from a man who has not left national politics behind.

"The HUD budget is cut $3 billion while the military wants $4.5 billion to build an aircraft carrier it admits it doesn't need," Jackson said. "Do not be deceived. A nation that continues to waste scarce resources on weapons while ignoring vital needs at home will grow weaker, not stronger."

And why is this country being lead down the wrong path?

"Surely, a large factor is race," Jackson said. "Why are we building walls around the prison budget and focusing energy on welfare reform? Surely, a large factor is race."

Clinton, who believes himself to be one of the most racially progressive presidents in history, does not welcome such criticism. Nor is he likely to welcome what followed:

"We have a president finally committed to civil rights, yet we have no civil rights agenda," Jackson said. "We have speeches about responsibility, but no program for progress."

When he was finished, Jackson was asked whether he was interested in running for mayor of Washington, D.C.

He said he was not.

And I believe him.

I have this sneaking suspicion he has a different job in mind.

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