Friday, November 23, 2012

Jesse Jr.'s fall is no tragedy

Son of a man whose career was built largely on the grave of Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson Jr. was born and bred to be a politician. Many believed he would one day even sit in the Oval Office, potentially as the first African-American President, that is before Barack Obama--who is four years Jackson's senior--came along. That dream is completely over now, it's in the dust. Jackson has little hope of achieving anything more than he already has in the political arena.

Jackson stepped down from his Congressional seat two days ago, having already been on a supposed medical leave of absence since June. He's currently under investigation for misusing campaign funds (basically spending them on himself), he was caught up in the Blagojevich scandal (lobbying hard for Obama's then-open Senate seat), and has apparently had a number of extra-marital affairs. He is--in many ways--the poster child for entitled politicians who assume they can do no wrong, who believe their transgressions will never cost them, politically or personally.

And it's not an unsurprising mindset, this teflon-coated personal perception, given how clueless constituents often seem to be. Because going into the primaries for the 2012 election for Illinois' 2nd Congressional District, Jackson's problems were already known; due to the leave he was taking, he hadn't even cast a vote in the House since early June. His Democratic opponent in the primaries was a former Representative, Debbie Halvorson, who had lost her seat in the 2010 elections. Yet, Jackson still crushed Halverson, by a margin of 71% to 29%. Clearly, the Democratic voters in the district were unaware of or unconcerned with Jackson's growing litany of problems. In the 2012 general election, Jackson won by a similar margin, 63% to 23%, over Republican challenger Brian Woodworth.

The numbers beg the question: what were voters thinking about, because it sure wasn't the reality of the situation. Of course, the answer is also all too obvious: Jackson won because of his name, first and foremost, because of who his father is and because of the political capital the name delivers.

Now that he is leaving politics--hopefully for good--one might assume there would be some recognition of all of this, of how the warning signs were ignored by voters and the media, alike. Alas, such is not the case. Jackson's departure has launched a series of lamentations over his "tragic" tale.

James Warren at the Daily Beast quotes Mike Flannery of the Chicago media elite:
It’s a terrible heart-rending tragedy. He’s a guy who had the world just laid out for him and did little with the opportunity. And now he’s squandered the whole thing.
And Warren offers his own take, as well:
In the end, Jesse Jackson Jr.’s story is a tragic one. Eclipsed for most of his life by his father, he was then marginalized by Obama. And now he has been brought to his knees by self-inflicted wounds. The history buff is surely aware that he is unlikely to be allowed to ride off as quietly as General Lee.
John Nichols at the Nation chimes in:
Jesse Jackson Jr. served his constituents and his conscience through 17 of the most demanding years in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. He cast more courageous votes and stood on principle more consistently than the vast majority of his colleagues. His career has ended on a sad note for Jackson, and for those who respected him. But it would be sadder still if we were to neglect the long arc of his service to the republic, a service that bent toward economic and social justice.
There's very little that's tragic in this story, very little actual courage to speak of. And Jesse Jackson Jr. is certainly no tragic hero:
The "tragic hero" is really the hero, since time immemorial. As Aristotle noted, the proper course for the tragic hero is from good to bad. The hero's tragic flaw--be it trust, appetite, dependence, or something else--only becomes apparent after their heroic character is established by deed.
For Jackson's rise to power and prominence was unrelated to great deeds, of any sort. What has he done, cast a few votes? Written a few pieces of legislation? And with his stepping down, what have we lost, other than a typical politician? There's no greatness here, no nobility of action, just a semi-noteworthy political career based on good looks and a family name (a name whose own political power is a product of another family's name). Not only that, Jackson has multiple flaws; it's not just one thing bringing him down.

No, the rise and fall of Jesse Jackson is not a tragedy, nor is it a comedy. It's far more akin to a morality tale, with Jackson making one wrong choice after another. He threw away any chance he had at greatness by his own actions. It's a tale of just desserts, both for Jackson and his constituents. To paraphrase Greg Lake, the politician we get we deserve...

Cheers, all.

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