The Jackson Reaction
As he does penance in the wilderness, supporters predict he'll return
Jesse Jackson's stock hadn't been this high in many years. Fresh from stage-managing a crucial Florida vote-count protest and submitting to arrest in an Oklahoma death-penalty protest, the ever controversial civil rights leader had set his sights on the next inviting target: John Ashcroft's nomination as attorney general. "He cannot be trusted," he pronounced gravely in the midst of last week's escalating war of ideologies.
But suddenly it was Jackson who was facing a question of trust--and of survival. By week's end, one of the most durable and potent voices of the left was uncannily silent as supporters wondered how badly he'd been damaged.
Last week, Jackson, 59, was forced to acknowledge that he had had an affair with a 39-year-old aide with whom he fathered a daughter, now 20 months old. The Baptist minister, who had acted as an adviser to President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, proved swifter than the president when it came to damage control. "As her mother does, I love this child very much and have assumed responsibility for her emotional and financial support since she was born," he said in a statement released after the tabloids blew the whistle on his affair. "This is no time for evasions, denials, or alibis. I fully accept responsibility, and I am truly sorry for my actions."
Rainbow payments. That responsibility includes voluntary $3,000-a-month payments to the mother, Karin Stanford, according to a spokesman. Less tidy is $35,000 Stanford received from Jackson's Rainbow Coalition--$15,000 to help cover costs for her and the baby to relocate to Los Angeles and $20,000 for consulting work for the group. Stanford also bought a home in Los Angeles in 1999 for $365,000, but Jackson did not help pay for it, the spokesman said. Stanford could not be reached for comment.
Stanford is a former assistant professor of political science and African-American studies at the University of Georgia who wrote a 1997 book, Beyond the Boundaries: Reverend Jesse Jackson and International Affairs. Jackson hired her to be director of the Washington bureau for his Rainbow/PUSH organization. Some observers applauded Jackson for coming clean but dissed him for the deed, noting that he had once visited Clinton at the White House with his pregnant girlfriend. "So it seems that Jesse Jackson was the perfect person to counsel President Clinton about infidelity," wrote New York Daily News columnist Michael Kramer. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page said: "His effectiveness as a mainstream spokesman has been somewhat neutralized." Others predict the news will sting but won't damage Jackson in the long run. "It's a big story today, but . . . in two weeks when Jesse speaks out about something, it may get mentioned and it may not get mentioned," says former Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, a Democrat.
The precedent is mixed. Jackson joins the list of sex scandals spanning both sides of the political aisle, such as those of former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Both men have largely receded from the public stage. But Jackson has always defied the laws of political gravity: "His ability to motivate people comes from the capital he has built up over the years, fighting for civil rights, women's rights, labor rights," says University of Maryland political scientist Ron Walters.