What adultery? Jesse Jackson's first sin is pride

January 23, 2001|By Susan Reimer

THE SUPREMES were back-up singers for Rush Limbaugh last Friday.

"Love child, never meant to be," Diana Ross sang as the conservative talk show host fielded phone calls from his triumphant listeners.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson had just admitted to fathering a child with an adoring staffer. As a bonus, the Great Seducer was on his way out of the White House.

The rappin' Rainbow Coalition preacher who's done so much to make conservative white men feel angry and obsolete was leaving the public stage in disgrace. And the president who had cast a mysterious spell over their wives, causing them to forgive the unforgivable, was about to catch a plane out of town.

Oh, it was a great day to be a conservative, middle-aged white guy.

But for women, it is just another turn at the wheel. One more man with everything to lose gives in to sexual opportunity, is found out, and loses nothing.

There have been so many that there is almost a script: The public apology delivered with suitable solemnity; the loyal spouse at his side with her head held high and her eyes fixed on him; the request for time and privacy to heal the wounds to the family.

After a decent interval of shock and dismay, loyal followers return him to power for the sake of the cause.

Oh, puh-lease.

When are we going to stop forgiving these guys?

How many more of them are going to appear before a national television audience to confess to the weaknesses of the flesh and then leave the studio to pick up where they left off? Is there some sanctifying grace in the confessional press conference that the rest of us poor sinners are unaware of?

Jesse Jackson is not Mick Jagger. His sexual affairs and his illegitimate children do not add to his star status. This isn't just a People magazine cover story.

Jackson's transgressions are a mortal wound to his posture as a moral leader and, a classy apology doesn't redeem him any more than it erases the public humiliation of his wife of 38 years, Jackie.

This is the guy who insinuated himself into the Monica Lewinsky scandal as the spiritual healer to the sinning President Clinton. He found a role for himself at the moral center of a Constitutional crisis and national nightmare. And, while he was at it, he had a photo taken in the Oval Office with his then-pregnant girlfriend.

That is the arrogance of power.

And that might be Jackson's greater sin.

He knew his affair would be discovered by the prying press, and he entered into it anyway.

He knew what could happen as a result of unprotected sex, and he engaged in it anyway.

He knew that inevitably his wife and children would have to endure public scorn, and he did it anyway.

Jackson acted as if good sense and the laws of God did not apply to him. Adultery gets all the ink, but pride is first on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Men like Clinton and Jackson have fallen in love with the sound of their own voices, and they want their words to echo through history. They are self-important enough to think their staged apologies will carry the same resonance.

Think I overstate the case against Jackson?

Barely hours after he announced that he would withdraw from public life to "revive my spirit and reconnect with my family," Jackson was back in the pulpit, literally, declaring in church on Sunday that the cause of civil rights had called out to him not to let his voice be stilled.

Done already? It takes me longer to balance my checkbook that it took the Reverend Jackson to put his family life and spiritual life to rights.

Forgive me, but I'd like to think that Jackie Jackson kicked him out, and the only place left for him is on the stump.

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