Ever since Obama swept Iowa last week, capping the win with a speech that seemed brushed by MLK’s angel wing, we’ve been wondering what the Reverend Jesse Jackson has been thinking. Sure, the Rev endorsed the guy, but his remarks about Obama have been so lukewarm you have to wonder if the nod wasn’t an obligatory matter of brothers supporting brothers. Not to mention that the candidate’s camp has never particularly reached out to the Rev. (Could it be all those conservative pundits saying that O’s a big hit precisely because he’s not Jesse Jackson?) And the Rev’s own wife endorsed Hillary. Finally, last night, we had our chance. At the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, where the Rev’s RainbowPUSH Coalition and Bombay Sapphire have been hosting a five-day summit on minority business-ownership, the Rev was sitting haggardly (he has the flu) amidst a phalanx of large, suited handlers. Everyone was waiting for Angie Stone to perform. So we approached the Rev and asked if we could briefly interrupt his fluishness. We just had to know what was going on in his head since O’s Iowa surge. “It’s continuous growth,” he murmured in that legendary semi-intelligible voice. “In 1988, we won thirteen states, so we laid the groundwork for change.” According to Jackson, Obama once told him that he was a Columbia undergrad in 1984, when Jackson, Hart, and Mondale had a Democratic primary debate there. “That made [Obama] say, ‘This was really possible,’” the Rev explained.
So did he feel that Obama’s campaign wouldn’t have quite so much momentum had Jackson not cleared the way for it? “I can’t be so presumptuous as to say that, but I think each of us builds upon the last generation’s struggles. All roads lead from Selma, really.” We certainly weren’t arguing with that, so we moved on: Had he and O talked since Iowa? “No,” said the Rev, simply. Well, what would he say to O if they did talk? Would he give O some strategic advice? “It’s not appropriate to give free advice,” he said, somewhat Wilde-ishly. “I talk to him every so often, but I don’t want to say what I would say. That’s inappropriate.”
He gave us the faintest, weariest smile that clearly signaled he thought we were inappropriate. So we moved on: Did he and his wife have bitter Obama–v.–Hill fights? Or, perhaps, loving, affection fights? “There’s been no fights at all,” he said. Debates, even? “We’ve had some debates. But, um…it’s just beautiful, really.” Beautiful? “Different points of view. It doesn’t affect us personally at all.”
Oh. Truth be told, we’d been meaning to ask the Rev if he was hurt or angry by all the Obama-is-the-un-Jesse commentary. But in that moment, a strange, unjournalistic humanness crept over us as we looked at the tired Rev, sporting his tarnished RainbowPUSH lapel pin, who’d been talking for five days about the gravity of the foreclosure crisis for African-American homeowners. So instead we shook the Rev’s meaty hand, thanked him, and left him the hell alone. —Tim Murphy