U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was just sentenced to 2 1/2 years in a federal penitentiary. This is, temporarily at least, a sad chapter, a metaphorical T.K.O.* and perhaps the end of a fable-type story of a handsome, winsome young politician who rapidly ascended the political ladder only to fall from public grace with a speedy, splattering noise to the merciless Washington D.C. pavement. In the real Sin City, things fall apart instantaneously and, yeah, the bigger you are; the harder you fall!
It wasn’t that long ago that the political world was abuzz with chatter about the heights that Jackson might reach in his career. He is, after all, the son of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, a civil rights icon. And he was elected to the House in a 1995 special election at the age of just 30.
Seems like JJJ was living a dream only yesterday. Almost as handsome as his father and not quite as dextrous in his rhetoric, young Jesse wore his genes well. Before Rahm Emanuel threw his hat into the ring, there was serious talk over the years that Jackson would run for mayor of Chicago, governor of Illinois, or for a seat in the U.S. Senate. A natural public speaker he was very savvy about building a liberal record in the House that was definite evidence of his having the Right Stuff in a way which transcended his African American roots in the same way as Barack Obama. He even maneuvered his way into being asked to speak at the 2008 Democratic National Convention by former President Bill Clinton.
Unfortunately, things began to fall apart just after the convention. After a mafia-connected bagman named Tony Rezko was indicted for attempted bribery by the FBI, Jackson became ensnared in a scandal over a Senate seat involving Illinois’ Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich (D). Caught offering a $6m bribe to a Blagojevich aide for a vacant seat in the Senate, a number of Jackson’s aides turned into witnesses against him. Bad then became worse as his voluptuous platinum blonde mistress began telling tales to The National Enquirer and Britain’s News of the World. Yet, most of it could be written off as ‘business as usual’ until someone in the Justice Department blew the whistle. Having embezzled more than $750,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, Jesse and his wife Sandy bought themselves and their illicit lovers expensive items of jewelry as presents. That was their ticket to prison.
There’s absolutely a homily here for greedy politicians who brag about their sexual prowess and their easy access to any number of Washington party favors: Don’t do it! Jackson risked all and lost all. Owning political power comes with the hubris exhibited by so many young athletes who genuinely believe they are truly above the law and that they are too well-connected to be caught.
Dramatic falls from grace go with the territory when you’re a politician, to be sure. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford recovered from a scandal involving just a good-old-fashioned mistress and rumors of threesomes at the Four Seasons with various second-rung movie stars. A few bigoted comments kinda/sorta hurt the campaign of a possible presidential candidate in George Allen. But then there’s the nightmare no politician can come back from involving the wife dying of cancer, the loose cannon mistress and a predilection for relentless denial exhibited by John Edwards. These three all publicly fell upon their swords, Roman-style, letting loose a torrent of crocodile tears. All three will probably maneuver their way back into the American public’s good graces. Indeed, only two years after the fact, so to speak, Sanford has already been nominated by his party to run for the Senate in 2014 and polls says he will win comfortably. Sexual peccadilloes can and will be forgiven. Stealing from the public purse during hard times is, however, eternally frowned upon.
There will be no political comeback for JJJ after he is released from prison, however. Surely, as with his father, the lure of evangelism and its gospel sideshow and an endless supply of winsome young women calls. Yet he must be careful even at this calling, as his own father, a far more sophisticated player than his son already knows, cooking the books and screwing rich fundraiser’s wives is fatal to a career. In the end, however, his tragic legacy will surely be defined and classified by how he went wrong. His high-flying early adventures and victories are now buried like a corpse.
*T.K.O. Boxing terminology for a technical knockout. This is where an opponent is comatose on his feet. Physically capable of carrying on, but mentally unfit. It is also an African American term for having unwillingly quit (usually in love).