The Future of Jesse Jr.
I’ve been reluctant to say much about U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. since his mysterious disappearance weeks ago and the slow, gradual release of facts about his being treated for a form of bipolar disease involving deep depression.
Mainly that’s because I’ve know the young man all his life, being a friend and associate of his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., ever since his emergence on the Chicago civil rights scene in the mid-1960s.
Well before we learned of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s criminal actions around the appointment for senator to replace Barack Obama, I wrote a column, unprodded by either Jr. or his family, supporting his appointment to the vacant seat. Jr. had been a smart, reliable progressive reformer.
I honestly do not know whether Jr. was aware that an Indian millionaire, now under indictment on another matter, was promising Blago millions in campaign funds if he appointed Jr. From what I know of the millionaire, he could have done it all on his own—or may have worked it out with the congressman. Some money guys, like Tony Rezko, attach themselves to politicians and try to act in their names.
Jr. may face federal charges if the U.S. Attorney decides he helped plan the whole caper. He also faces a U.S. House Ethics Committee investigation. Guilty or innocent, that’s enough to send anyone into a serious depression. I hope he is innocent, but allow that he may have erred.
I want to comment beyond this disclosure, since the media regularly asks me.
First, if he decides to stay on the ballot and run for re-election, having swamped an opponent in his most difficult primary earlier this year, I believe he will win handily, even if he does not actively campaign but uses surrogates. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic and African American—and the congressman is well liked and a good constituent-service provider. But he is unlikely to gain higher office.
His original disappearance was grossly mishandled, keeping facts secret, pretending for that he was still around, etc. etc. Any good PR person knows the best way to handle a crisis is to get all the facts out front quickly and honestly rather than create a mystery or lie outright. I suspect his top aide Frank Watkins knew this and urged it but was over-ridden by the family for fear of the onus of mental illness—but the facts eventually came out.
Given the truth now, I believe the public is generally forgiving, assuming Jr. stays on the case.
If he wins there is no reason why he cannot perform his duties as well as ever, assuming he is properly medicated. Some of the most successful figures in public life suffered from depression, including novelist William Styron and journalist Mike Wallace—to say nothing of Winston Churchill.
Then again, there is the outside possibility that he does not run. But whatever personal choice he makes, he deserves encouragement and support until action is taken against him, if any.
Depression is no sin—and he is innocent until proven otherwise.
Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer.
image The 1933 World’s Fair offered a vision of the Future during the Depression