Healthcare Comment Illustrates the Sudden Irrelevancy of Jesse Jackson

With a changing African-American electorate, Jesse Jackson's comments can be overlooked.

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By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

"You can't vote against healthcare and call yourself a black man."

So pronounced the Rev. Jesse Jackson the other night at an event held by the Congressional Black Caucus, also known as the CBC, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Jackson's 1984 Presidential campaign. You might not have heard about Jackson's remark. It received some notice, but nowhere near the overwhelming coverage that Jackson's blue comments last year towards Barack Obama or even his tasteless comment that New York City's Jewish voters made the city "Hymietown."

Jackson criticizing an African-American presidential candidate or offering bizarre anti-Semitic remarks are certainly more newsworthy that criticizing a lone Congressman he declined to mention by name—in this case Rep. Artur Davis, a CBC member and gubernatorial candidate in Alabama. But more than that, the African-American electorate and, by definition, its representation is changing to the point that Jackson's comment can be dismissed as irrelevant.

A new generation of African-American politicians, including not only Davis, but mayors such as Washington's Adrian Fenty, Newark's Cory Booker and Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, has demonstrated a willingness to look beyond old orthodoxies and look for new solutions on issues that affect their communities.

But it's not merely generational. When Russell Simmons took the politically courageous step of endorsing Michael Steele in his 2006 Senate race (full disclosure: I was the campaign's communications director), he was joined by Dr. Benjamin Chavis, former NAACP leader and director of the Million Man March.

In Virginia's gubernatorial campaign, Republican Bob McDonnell's ideas for minority engagement and business development helped keep Richmond Mayor (and the first African-American elected governor of a state) Douglas Wilder neutral in the race, itself a victory. And if voters saw a face in the campaign more frequently than McDonnell's, it was that of Sheila Johnson, a founder of Black Entertainment Television, urging voters to support McDonnell.

Meanwhile, Rev. Al Sharpton is touting real education reform with none other than Newt Gingrich.

Which ultimately explains why Jackson's comments have not received more attention; Rep. Davis' vote on the healthcare bill has nothing to do with race. Or, as Davis himself smartly said when asked about Jackson's comments, Jackson "inspired the idea that a black politician would not be judged simply as a black leader."

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