Memo to Michael: what Jesse really wants
DEAR Governor Dukakis, Your recent moves to bring Jesse Jackson more into your campaign may end your ``Jackson problem.'' At breakfast the other morning with Washington journalists, the Rev. Mr. Jackson spoke highly of you.
But I talked with a number of reporters who attended this session and found they all came away with this similar impression: Jackson is mollified by your recent moves to make him more a part of your campaign, but doesn't feel comfortable in his assigned role. And he doesn't seem to warm up to you personally.
``What does Jesse want?'' He made it clear that he wanted ``a place at the table.'' You heard his request and complied, preventing the continuation of a split that would have left the convention in shambles. Your unity with Jackson provided both the excitement and the harmony that turned the convention into a ringing success. He got the impression that he was to become a major participant in the campaign. Yet Jackson feels that this never came about, and only recently with the return of your aide John Sasso did your campaign begin to deal attentively with his requests.
There are signs of reconciliation: Jackson's appearance with you in Dallas, and the strategy and speech advice you are now asking him to provide. But is this really what Jesse wants? He says he now has free rein to campaign in any state. ``There are no restrictions,'' he told the breakfast reporters twice. But is this what he's really after?
As I read Jackson's words, he is really saying that campaign participation on his part doesn't truly meet his needs - and the needs of the blacks he represents. Again and again he says this election ``really is about direction and values'' and ``not competency.'' Then he talks about the mobilization of the voters that would come when a leader provides this ``vision.''
In an opinion-page article in the New York Times, Jackson expresses this view quite eloquently: ``The campaign,'' he writes, ``is not about patriotism; both candidates are patriots. It is not about administrative experience; both candidates have that. It is not about the pledge of allegiance or the choice a young man made about military service 20 years ago.
``The campaign is about America's promise to its people of an equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is about leadership.''
A top Jackson aide says that to understand what Jackson wants, one must realize that he feels the United States is ready for a new leap forward in race relations, and that good leadership will see this opportunity and bring it about.
Jackson was not irritated merely by being ignored at the start of the campaign. What angered him was a campaign strategy that assumed he would help gain black votes in some parts of the country, lose white votes in other areas, and so on. He felt he had proved in the primaries that he could attract an impressive number of votes from whites. He believes voters have come a long way in the last several years - that in increasing numbers the American people see issues and individual candidates, not color.
Thus, Jackson would like you to launch a campaign that reaches out to all the people. He would like you to abandon a strategy that, as he sees it, is based on responding to your view of regional, state, and local sensitivities to the so-called racial issue.
He knows this would call for boldness. But he thinks that just as John Kennedy proved (against the wisdom and advice of almost all the politicians and pundits) that an apparent bar to a Roman Catholic's becoming president could be broken down, you could show that the American people are ready - even eager - to put the racial aspects behind them in selecting their president.
I understand that Jackson would like you to make a major speech along this line, one that stresses ``America's promise to its people of equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'' The theme would be ``One People,'' perhaps reminiscent of the visionary ``One World'' concept of the 1940s. And he would expect that your campaigning, and his, would simply reflect that policy. Specifically, he would like to be asked to join you in a ``One People'' campaign.
That, Governor, is what I think Jackson really wants. I believe such a speech - and policy - would satisfy Jackson's call for vision, direction, and leadership in this campaign, an approach with a basic appeal to human decency which he is convinced voters would reward with victory for the one who expressed it.
Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.