It was 1984, I think, when I talked my father out of voting for Jesse Jackson. He didn’t care for the candidates that year, and Jackson’s rhetoric was poetry in motion. Mort Saul once favored Jackson because we would finally have an inaugural address that rhymes. But even as a protest vote, I thought it was wrong. What convinced him, finally, was the Rodino factor.
I was living in the Baltimore area at the time, and I had followed with interest the political candidacy of a former judge. Billy Murphy was running against popular Mayor William Donald Schaeffer, who later became Governor of Maryland. I liked Murphy, and I was not fond of Schaeffer. For one thing, I had felt that sometime Schaeffer crony, Hyman Pressman had run a phenomenally unethical campaign against a Republican opponent, finding and selectively releasing confidential medical records.
Murphy, running an issues oriented campaign against Schaeffer, was not doing all that well. So in came Jesse Jackson. Jackson’s case for Murphy was direct: Murphy was black and Schaeffer was white. The key phrase, in front of an embarrassed Murphy: “It’s time we elected one of our own.”
Which brings us to Peter Rodino, a preternaturally popular Congressman at that time from New Jersey. Rodino had a legislative history that was more in alignment with the Congressional Black Caucus than the records of most members of that caucus. He had found a national reputation as a fair and capable Chair of the Judicial Committee during the Watergate hearings and impeachment vote against President Richard Nixon.
He was challenged by a black candidate who was not given much of a chance. Rodino was endorsed by almost every leader in his mostly black district. It did not seem to sway voters that Jesse Jackson campaigned for Rodino’s opponent. Jackson’s logic was the same as in Baltimore: “It’s time we elected one of our own.” Rodino was elected overwhelmingly.
What I found striking was the premise of Jackson’s rhetoric. It was not just that white folks running for office should have a strike against them, or be viewed with suspicion. It seemed that any white person was utterly irredeemable. Rodino may have been a good guy, but there was no hope for him. Nothing he could do would ever make him “one of our own.”
That logic is explicitly rejected by Barack Obama. My daughter, who is black, supports Obama. Hillary’s latest logic on why folks owe their support crystallized a little for me at my daughter’s recent conversation with a friend. “I guess I’m not much of feminist,” she sighed. He answered with deliberate absurdity, “At least you’re a good black person.”
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