Cast of Characters
Jesse Jackson, with No Role
By Kevin Merida
DENVER -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday, not as a speaker but as a watcher. He sat in a sky suite at the Pepsi Center, credentialed by the Democratic National Committee, and took in the evening's proceedings.
He had no official duties, none at all.
On a day when Barack Obama officially became the first African American to be nominated as a presidential candidate by a major political party, the nation's first serious black presidential contender had nothing much he was asked to do.
"This is Barack's moment," Jackson said. "I wanted to reserve my focus for his candidacy and the ticket."
Jesse Louis Jackson has been a major figure in Democratic politics for the past 25 years, and is arguably the most well-known black leader in the country. But his string of six straight political conventions in which he was given a coveted speaking slot has come to an end.
Jackson was never destined to have a role at an Obama convention. The campaign's carefully calibrated message of change seemed to leave little room for him. Then, an open mic caught Jackson on a Fox News set chastising Obama for "talking down to black people" and telling a guest that he wanted to castrate the candidate (and not in that safe language). The resulting embarrassment hurt Jackson's image.
"That's behind us," Jackson said in an interview. "His problem is not a friend who makes a mistake. I'm his ally. The problem is not the accidental embarrassment, but the intentional attempts to destroy him."
Asked about his current relationship with the nominee, Jackson said: "Barack, he's not petty. He's not a petty guy. I'm quick to support and defend him and his family."
Jackson said that while he would have no formal role in the fall campaign, he planned to concentrate his efforts on voter registration -- he is heading to southern Ohio on Saturday and then going on to Athens, Ga. "We have some heavy lifting this fall," he said.
Jackson plans to be at Invesco Field to hear Obama's acceptance speech on the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington. Jackson said many commentators have missed the significance of the occasion. Too many people talk about Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech," he said, and connect it to a dream fulfilled in 2008. But the occasion was not a happy one.
"The speech was about broken promises," Jackson said. "When you talk about the dream, you miss the violence of that day. It was a very violent period." He went on: "Kennedy didn't want the march to take place. D.C. was on a military lockdown that day."
Obama is certainly a product of the civil rights struggle, Jackson said, and "Dr. King would celebrate this political victory." But Jackson added that the country has "overdosed on Dr. King's speech," when there is still so much inequality that needs addressing.
Posted at 11:15 PM ET on Aug 27, 2008
Cast of Characters
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