Run, Jesse, Run

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Jackson-Obama.jpgIt’s always perilous to take Fox News at its word, but whether or not Jesse Jackson was caught whispering about personally wanting to deprive Barack Obama of part of his anatomy, it’s clear that he is no fan of the Illinois senator’s “faith-based.” Why? In the taped remarks, he says he believes Obama was “talking down to black people” on the subject, but as Bill O’Reilly himself remarked, Obama’s support of faith-based social service provision “doesn’t seem to have any condescending quality to it.”
The issue clearly has to do with Obama’s habit of urging African Americans generally and black men in particular to shoulder personal responsibility for themselves and their children, to not use victimhood as an excuse for life’s hardships. Apologizing on CNN, Jackson explained himself by claiming that Obama was hurting himself with black voters by giving “moral” lectures, adding:

I said he comes down as speaking down to black people. The moral message must be a much broader message. What we need really is racial justice and urban policy and jobs and health care. That’s a range of issues on the menu.

The Obama campaign got the message, with spokesman Bill Burton issuing a statement to the effect that the senator would continue to address both social needs and personal responsibilities.
It may be that, to Jackson’s ears, Obama’s embrace of faith-based language smacks of the old pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die black church tradition that civil rights activists had to combat. But really, both Obama’s preaching of personal responsibility and faith-based enthusiasm are hardly alien to contemporary black activism. Jackson himself has not shied away from preaching responsibility and no institutions have embraced government-funded programs more avidly than the black churches since the days of the Great Society.
Underneath it all, I’d say, is Jackson’s unreconstructed belief in the liberal domestic policy agenda of the 1960s versus Obama’s far more modest, post-Reagan-era approach. Today, WaPo’s Dan Balz conjures with the latter in an article headlined Obama’s “Ideology Proving Difficult to Pinpoint.” Whatever that ideology is, it’s a far cry from Great Society liberalism. And that’s what’s gotten Jackson’s goat. For Obama, Jackson’s vulgarity must be counted a Godsend. Black voters show no sign of being anything but swept away by his campaign, and nothing can do more to cement him as a “moderate” in the eyes of white voters than to be thus scorned by Jesse.