Jesse Jackson's office calling. He's...

THURSDAY MORNING:

November 21, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THURSDAY MORNING: Jesse Jackson's office calling. He's coming to town to make a speech and wants to meet with the editorial board at 5 p.m.

That's Putting It Together time for the editorial pages, but three volunteers arrange to meet him.

Thursday afternoon at 5: Jesse Jackson's office calls back. He's stuck in traffic en route from Washington. Can we arrange a conference call? No problemo, I say.

Question: How many editorial writers does it take to link up a conference call? Answer: I don't know. Must be more than we have. We can't do it.

So I'm the designated interviewer on the phone here, with scribbled questions from my colleagues, and Jackson on his car phone heading north, responding, usually unresponsively. He has some points to make about injustice, and he doesn't let questions get in the way.

Half an hour into this, Jackson exclaims, "We're in front of your building! 501! We're coming in!" In sweep he and entourage. I'm the only available editorial writer now, but reporters Jim Bock and Mike Fletcher are on hand, so we have a meeting after all (later joined by edit writer Glenn McNatt).

So much for Journalism 101. Now for Political Science 400. Jackson won't discuss NAACP affairs, except to say he's not a candidate for executive director. As for that other train wreck of an institution he's associated with, the Democratic Party, well, verrrrry inter-resting.

He's angry that so few Democrats campaigned this year on the basis of the positive aspects of the party's record and for its "moral agenda." He himself did, on behalf of congressional candidates, including Sen. Charles Robb, who came back to "the base," at the end and won. Whereas Sen. Jim Sasser and Rep. Dave McCurdy, who positioned themselves as "New Democrats" lost.

Robb's problem, Jackson explains, exposed as he campaigned in black churches, is that he can't clap rhythmically. (When respected black political leaders can make jokes in public about the rhythm gap between whites and blacks, who says we aren't making progress in race relations?)

Is Bill Clinton, with or without rhythm, faithful to the moral agenda and loyal to the Democratic base?

"On certain days."

And if Clinton is having uncertain days in 1996? "I'll work for the agenda," he says, and he'll try to "inspire" and energize the base.

Meaning he'll oppose the president for the nomination? Or support another liberal who does? Not necessarily. There are those options, of course, he implies but does not say, but there's another option.

"More people are interested in an alternative to 'Democrat' and 'Republican.' If both parties are for three strikes, if both parties are positioning themselves to be conservative, people will turn to independent candidates. Whether this matures into a third party remains to be seen.

"We [meaning he] are evaluating all options."

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