By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Speaking near a Fox News microphone that he thought was turned off, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson on Sunday disparaged Sen. Barack Obama's embrace of faith-based social services, using crude language to suggest that he wanted to castrate the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Jackson made the comments to Reed Tuckson, an executive vice president at United Health Group, saying Obama's pitch to expand President Bush's federal assistance for faith-based social service programs was "talking down to black people." He then used a base phrase to say what he wanted to do to the senator from Illinois.
The incident received wide attention last night after conservative talk show host Bill O'Reilly aired the comments, which were made in the network's Midwestern studio. Jackson sent out a hasty apology before they aired, then held a news conference in Chicago in which he lauded Obama as the culmination of the "marches and martyrdom and murder" of his own generation's civil rights struggle.
But in a display of generational division, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) blasted his father's comment in unsparing terms.
"I'm deeply outraged and disappointed in Reverend Jackson's reckless statements about Senator Barack Obama," wrote the younger Jackson, who is an Obama national campaign co-chairman. "His divisive and demeaning comments about the presumptive Democratic nominee -- and I believe the next president of the United States -- contradict his inspiring and courageous career."
On July 1, Obama went to Appalachian Ohio to talk up his faith-based initiative in an appeal to rural and religious voters he had difficulty winning over during the primary season. Five days later, the Rev. Jackson slammed that effort before an appearance on "Fox and Friends," later saying he worried that white voters would interpret Obama's pitch as a way to skirt government intervention to help troubled African American communities.
Jackson's comments, and his son's response, pointed to a divide between the generation of black leaders who marched and protested in the civil rights movement and a younger generation looking to expand its leadership beyond the black community.
Rep. Jackson has crossed swords with his father before, counseling Obama to broaden his appeal to white voters even as the Rev. Jackson has pushed him to be a more traditional civil rights leader. In the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses in January, the Rev. Jackson wanted Obama to lead marches in Jena, La., where six black teenagers were charged with beating a white schoolmate. Rep. Jackson wanted Obama to focus on winning Iowa, which he did.
Yesterday, the congressman did not hide his anger at his father.
"Reverend Jackson is my dad and I'll always love him," he said. "He should know how hard that I've worked for the last year and a half as a national co-chair of Barack Obama's presidential campaign. So I thoroughly reject and repudiate his ugly rhetoric. He should keep hope alive and any personal attacks and insults to himself."
It is not clear whether the flare-up will hurt or help Obama. The senator from Illinois continues to struggle to put behind him the inflammatory sermons of his former longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. But even conservatives were saying yesterday that a fight with Jackson could help Obama win over white working-class voters who tended to side with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in their drawn-out primary fight.
At his news conference, Jackson insisted he is "all with" Obama when he speaks to black audiences and talks about faith-based social services. But, he added, "black America and urban America also need a structure, and beyond a faith-based policy, which is important, a government-based policy."
Obama's campaign was tight-lipped about the incident, issuing only a statement. "As someone who grew up without a father in the home, Senator Obama has spoken and written for many years about the issue of parental responsibility, including the importance of fathers participating in their children's lives," Obama spokesman Bill Burton wrote. "He also discusses our responsibility as a society to provide jobs, justice, and opportunity for all. He will continue to speak out about our responsibilities to ourselves and each other, and he of course accepts Reverend Jackson's apology."