What’s wrong with Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.?


Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. speaking to reporters in Washington, DC last year. (Karen Bleier/Getty Images)

Updated 9:45 p.m.

Something going on you want to tell us about?

We know it might be painful or embarrassing — but honestly, Congressman, usually it’s best just to let it all hang out.

If Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. had explained a month ago — when the Chicago Democrat first went AWOL from Washington — that he was getting mental-health treatment, there might be fewer questions about his condition today. Instead, his office’s terse explanation late Wednesday that he was suffering a “mood disorder” felt like too little too late — and too much like the clouds of mystery that have foretold the demise of other politician’s careers.

It’s one thing for a Hollywood celebrity to claim “exhaustion” and go off the grid — it’s their dime, after all. It’s another for a public official to check out without explaining things to his or her constituents. And even Jackson’s latest attempt to clarify his situation was shrouded by his staff’s invocation of federal health privacy laws.

But do secrecy and vagueness ever work for pols grappling with personal messes?


Former congressman David Wu. (Don Ryan/Associated Press)

Rep. Anthony Weiner denied and denied and denied that he had texted pictures of his crotch to a young woman. When stories of more sexting encounters began to burble up, he resigned and entered rehab for sexual addiction.

Rep. Eric Massa insisted that his health was the reason he wouldn’t seek reelection. When it came out that he was under investigation for sexual harassment, he left office before his term was up.

Gov. Mark Sanford allowed his oblivious staff to present his absence from the office as a hike on the Appalachian Trail — later revealed to be a visit to his Argentine mistress, which ended his marriage and his political career.


Patrick Kennedy (Cliff Owen/AP)

On the other hand, Rep. Patrick Kennedy announced a day after a late-night car accident that he was going into rehab for addiction to prescription drugs — and stayed in office until leaving on his own timetable, four years later. After Sen. Mark Kirk, suffered a stroke in January, he quickly released medical details and photos, followed by a video promising to keep working for constituents.

Jackson’s damage-control instincts have been a little sharper in the past. When the married congressman was caught cavorting with a cigar-lounge hostess in 2010, he issued the standard penitential non-denial — “a private and personal matter between me and my wife that was handled some time ago.” Okay, maybe not all the gory details, but you got the picture. And then the story went away.

Also: What are mood disorders?, 7/12/12

Related: Jesse Jackson Jr. being treated for ‘mood disorder,’ his office says (2chambers)

Jesse Jackson Jr.’s untenable no-comment strategy (The Fix)


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