Jesse Jackson: Obama could never have played the sax on ‘Arsenio’

August 21, 2013

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Wednesday that President Obama needs to be more careful about what he says and does than do white politicians because of his race.

Jackson said there remains a double standard in American society and the media and that Obama doesn't have the "same lattitude" as someone like President Bill Clinton did.

“I’m sensitive to President Barack’s predicament, because even the press has its own cultural race twist," Jackson said in an interview with The Washington Post. "If he had blown a saxophone like Clinton did on 'Arsenio Hall,' he’d have been dismissed as a joke."

Clinton's turn on "The Arsenio Hall Show" during the 1992 presidential race is one of the best-remembered moments in that campaign -- though many initially dismissed it as un-presidential. Wearing blues-player sunglasses, then-Gov. Clinton belted out "Heartbreak Hotel" on a tenor sax during the show's opening.

Jackson, who is set to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, said the experience of the first black president has surprised him in certain ways.

He said he didn't foresee the "meanness" and the instant backlash that Obama would face.

“I’m not sure that I expected such a radical [response]" after the election, Jackson said. "Even the right wing was proud of the victory. It was a big victory for America that night. America had done something big." But Jackson said it was too short-lived.

"My God, the next night, the tears got wiped away," Jackson said. "The backlash has been so severe. It has not been an idle backlash. This is a real, organized, ideological, fundamental, states’ rights, federal backlash.”

Jackson said Obama has been treated with basic lack of respect at certain times -- pointing to Donald Trump's efforts to push the "birther" issue and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouting "you lie" at the president when he was giving an address to Congress.

“I thought that we had turned a certain corner, but we’ve always had to go to and fro, backwards and forwards," Jackson said. "A guy like Trump was kind of a nice guy – around boxers, black and white."

Bat Jackson said Obama's two electoral victories are proof of something positive.

“I didn’t think we’d see this," he said. "We won anyhow.”

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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