I genuinely want to avoid anything that might become a retroactive embarrassment for me — so I’m resisting the temptation to plunge hastily into all kinds of lathered-up analysis and finger-pointing regarding the catastrophe of “Election 2012”. I ‘d like to take a day or two — or a few more hours, at least — before I begin spouting about that dark night of our nation’s soul.
One down-ballot result, however, begs for immediate commentary; and provides an insight into an ugly tendency which spells trouble for America if not dealt with pretty quickly.
In a morning-after chicagoist.com headline which flatly must be filed in the “understatement” column, we learn: “Jesse Jackson Jr. Coasts To Victory Despite Long Absence”.
“Coasts”? “Long Absence”? I’ll allow an excerpt from the actual article to explain: “Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Chicago) cruised to an easy victory with 63 percent of the vote in the Second Congressional District, despite having been absent from work since June … Upon winning last night, Jackson Jr. released a statement through a spokesman …”.
Scion of the controversial civil rights hustler, err, leader the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the forty seven year old Democratic incumbent had to release a statement through his spokesman because, not only has he been politically AWOL for half-a-year; but, most recently he’s been “at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota seeking treatment for bipolar disorder ” (actually for the second time since early last summer).
Certainly, the residents of Chicago’s Second Congressional District owe Jackson, Jr their prayers and well-wishes. What they don’t owe him, and what the rest of America shouldn’t have to face, is a fresh, two-year crack at his shaping the laws under which we all live. I’d say a basic requirement of service in the U.S. Congress of the United States of America ought to be, oh, I don’t know, the ability to actually show up for work?
Did I mention yet that, along with his medical tribulations, Jackson, Jr. has also been under two separate, federal ethics investigations; and has faced (and partially admitted to) serious charges of marital infidelity? Not that that matters, mind you. What weight, in the end, do legal and family issues hold regarding fitness for public service if the individual in question doesn’t even have to be physically available for the job?
Regardless, Jackson, Jr. was swept back into office Tuesday — without “run[ning] any campaign ads … [or] hold[ing] any campaign events,” according to the chicagoist.com piece. “He put out one robo-call in October in which he asked constituents for patience and said, “I am starting to heal … but my doctors tell me the road to recovery is a long one.” Granted, I’m not sure “swept back into office” is apropos since he won’t actually be “in” the office in any meaningful kind of way, but there you have it. Full salary and benefits, all courtesy of American taxpayers, presumably will continue without interruption while he is “give[n] … a chance to heal” (as requested by his D-Chicago, congressional colleagues Bobby Rush and Danny K. Davis.
On a certain level, there’s nothing completely unprecedented here. The ranks of the disgraced and/or convicted and/or scandal-ridden who, nevertheless, have been returned to political office include: the flamboyantly notorious Louisiana Senator/Governor Huey “The Kingfish” Long; Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry; President Bill Clinton; Rep. Wilbur Mills (D-AR), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL); and very recently, New York City Rep. Charley Rangel; among many, many others.
Tennessee legislator Tommy Burnett and Boston Mayor James Michael Curley were voted back into their respective offices while serving prison time.
Back in 2004, a probation officer’s report described Brooklyn, NY State Assemblyman Roger Green as “having limited mental capacity or … being dishonest” (he’d pled guilty to petty larceny earlier that year.) Not to worry – that November Green won back the seat he’d resigned just months previous.
Throughout America’s electoral history, for a ballot-box full of reasons, scores of wired-in politicians have managed to gather about them nearly cult-like followings. These have been blindly, undivertibly partisan; defending and endorsing their particular “public servant” no matter what he did; under nearly any and all circumstances. Successes? Failures? Voting record? Private comportment? Official behavior? Irrelevant, all of it, to their fealty.
It’s a dangerously, flabbergastingly irresponsible social phenomenon which persists, too frequently, today.
Exhibit A: Jesse Jackson, Jr. More prominent Exhibit B: Barack Obama?
With zero apparent sense of irony, chicagoist.com supplies this morsel: “While 63 percent of the vote is a wide margin of victory, it was quite narrow compared to Jackson Jr.’s usual 80-some percent victories. That was more a result of redistricting that trapped him in a tough primary against Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson.”
Well. I hope this data isn’t getting back to the already vexed Windy City lawmaker. He’s plainly got more than enough personal trouble crowding him these days and doesn’t need to be further frazzled by what might happen if he remains out-of-pocket until the 2014 race. In that case? Why, his victory percentage could plummet way down to to subterranean 50’s.
That would be intolerable.
Lower image: Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana; public domain