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Jesse Jackson Jr.’s untenable no-comment strategy

at 11:55 AM ET, 07/11/2012

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is going to have to answer questions about his unexplained absence from Congress. He just may not know it yet.
In this Oct. 16, 2011 file photo, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., is seen during the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Jackson’s mysterious hiatus from the House (which his spokesman last week attributed to undefined “physical and emotional ailments”) is raising plenty of eyebrows these days, and both Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have now urged him to explain himself.

Jackson’s best course is to do just that as quickly as possible, tell the whole truth, and hope that it’s good enough to save what was once a bright political future — or at the very least, his congressional career.

Here’s why.

If recent scandals in the House have taught us anything, it’s that you simply can’t say something bizarre, leave open questions about it, and hope everyone just moves on. The appetite to learn exactly what happened is just too strong.

Recent examples of this include Reps. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), David Wu (D-Ore.) and Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.).

In all four cases, something very odd was clearly afoot and the members tried to weather the storm, but their actions and comments (or lack thereof) only fed the beast.

All four men resigned their seats.

This is NOT to say that Jackson is a part of any kind of scandal, as these other members were. In fact, it’s quite possible that there is a legitimate reason for his decision not to be forthcoming about his undefined “physical and emotional ailments.” And he’s got a safe seat, so he can probably win reelection even if he’s not able to actively campaign.

But the fact that Jackson’s seat is totally safe makes his lack of candor all the more odd. If it’s not that bad, why didn’t he just come out with it and be done with it, knowing that he’s already won his party’s nomination and, barring major scandal, will be re-elected?

As it stands, people want to know.

Want proof? The two most-read blog posts on The Fix this month were Jackson’s announcement about his ailments and McCotter’s surprise decision to resign from Congress after a series of bizarre episodes, including fraud in his ballot signatures and his vulgar TV pilot that was leaked to the press.

This despite a presidential race that tends to dominate The Fix’s readership. As much as it pains us to say, people generally don’t pay much mind to the House.

Until something strange happens.

Something strange is happening with Jackson. And the attention it’s getting is compounded by his famous father of the same name and the fact that this is not the first time there have been questions about his conduct (these also include rumors of an affair and allegations that he tried to buy President Obama’s Senate seat by raising money for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich).

The longer he waits, the more untenable it gets. That’s why his Democratic colleagues are publicly asking for answers; they don’t need the distraction.

The question from here is more when those answers come rather than if they do.

 
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