The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson said today that the Democratic Party is engaged in a headlong rush to the political right that, if unchecked, will leave blacks and progressive whites with no choice but to run for office as independents.
Jackson stopped short of endorsing the idea of his running for president as an independent in 1988. But in remarks to a meeting of black state legislators, the civil rights leader and unsuccessful candidate for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination appeared to be laying out a strategic framework for making such a decision.
"The shadow of Ronald Reagan hovers over the Democratic Party," Jackson told the annual conference of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. "He has intimidated the Democrats" into joining the Republicans in a "radical shift to the right."
Jackson said with astonishment that the Democratic National Committee had just completed a poll that shows that "words like fairness are disruptive." He said DNC Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. is running the party with a "conservative mandate." And he contended that the party's refusal to change its presidential-nomination rules more in the direction of proportional representation will leave millions of his supporters "disenfranchised."
Finally, Jackson complained that the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of elected officials from the South and West who have called for the party to move to the center, was "sending a clear signal" by "traveling around the country as a group of all whites."
Jackson added in an interview that while he would prefer for Democratic Party leadership to work out a "mutually beneficial relaltionship" with blacks, he is not especially optimistic.
Jackson said that the strategy of blacks running as independents might work in state races in the South and suggested that black leaders, such as former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson and New Orleans Mayor Ernest Morial, would be viable statewide candidates in three-way races.
Among blacks, the strategic argument against such candidacies has been that they would assure the election of the more conservative whites and that they undermine the political bases most black elected officials have built for themselves within the Democratic Party.
Many agreed with Pennsylvania State Sen. Hardy Williams, a Democrat, who said: "The return that blacks have gotten for their loyalty to the Democrats has been minimal. It's a festering sore, and it keeps getting worse."
State Rep. Dwight Evans, another Pennsylvania Democrat, said the younger black voters of his Philadelphia district do not have the ties to the Democratic Party that their parents did, and he speculated that they would follow Jackson if he were to launch an independent presidential candidacy.
Jackson's hints of an independent candidacy are similar to the positioning he engaged in before the 1984 campaign. If he decides to run -- either as an independent or a Democrat -- he is laying groundwork now.
His Rainbow Coalition has a permanent staff of seven. It plans to conduct a series of state organizing sessions this winter and to hold a national midterm convention in April.
Jackson has also formed a tax-exempt foundation, the Citizenship Education Fund, to conduct voter registration drives, and is considering forming a political action committee to assist black and progressive white candidates