John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Condemning the Old, Condemning the New

Posted on July 10, 2008

            First, Barack Obama is forced to distance himself from the comments of his spiritual father, the infamous Reverend Wright.


 


 


            And now, one of Obama’s top supporters, Jesse Jackson Jr. is forced to condemn the comments of his actual father, Rev. Jesse Jackson.


 


            In 1992, Bill Clinton attacked the comments of a rap singer named Sister Souljah, who famously said, “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?”


 


            Clinton was able use his criticism of her to recast himself as a centrist.  Looking back on it now, it seems like a no-brainer.


 


            Today, Obama has been the attackee, not the attacker.


 


            Will he use these attacks to try to remake himself into a centrist?  Probably.  Will it work?  I doubt it.


 


            It worked for Clinton because he was white Southerner.  He made a plausible centrist. 


 


            Obama is neither perceived as white (although his mother was) nor from the south (unless you count the South Side of Chicago as south).


 


            Obama is a northern liberal, and no matter how much Jesse Jackson doesn’t like him, that fact will never change.  He makes an implausible centrist.


 


            But that doesn’t mean this isn’t an interesting story, because it is.


 


            Jackson’s comments are especially revealing, because they show how difficult it is for an African-American leader to try to veer even a teeny-weeny bit away from the party line.


 


            What has Obama really said to black audiences?  That they need better nutritional habits (because of the staggering percentage of African-Americans who have diabetes), that they need better educational habits (because of the staggering percentage of African-Americans who drop out of school) and that they need to take more responsibility for their communities.


 


            Obama’s comments are not nearly as hard-hitting nor as important as those made byBill Cosby, who has given tough love a new definition.


 


            Cosby has gone around the country, speaking truth to the power of the black political establishment, urging black America to basically get its act together.


 


            For Obama’s mild comments, Jesse Jackson wants to cut his nuts off (his words, not mine).


 


            My thoughts immediately go to Clarence Thomas and J.C. Watts, two courageous African-American leaders, who have been completely vilified by guys like Jackson and Al Sharpton.


 


            Given the visual image that Jackson provided to us about his thoughts about Obama, you can only imagine what Jackson wanted to do to Watts and Thomas!


 


            It is too early to know how this will play out in the general election.


 


            Clearly, Jackson wanted to send a warning shot over Obama’s head.  “You can tack to the center all you want, but not with my people,” Jackson seemed to be saying.


 


            But for Obama to win, he must attract more votes with white ethnic voters, and to do that he must do more to upset the Jacksons and the Sharptons of the world.


 


            For Jackson, the biggest danger is that Obama will condemn the legacy of Jackson’s generation of leadership -- just as he did to Rev. Wright -- in an attempt to gain the White House.


 


            This is Jackson’s Last Hurrah.  If Obama wins, he is finished as a political leader.  And even if Obama loses, he will be the one that people turn to for guidance on issues of race, not Jesse Jackson.