WASHINGTON -- The best thing Jesse Jackson could do for himself is run for president as an independent candidate in 1996.
It might not be the best thing for the country. And it certainly would not be the best thing for the Democratic Party.
But, Jackson might argue, what has either done for him lately?
Whenever Jackson runs for president, he is somebody.
Reporters hang on his words, people flock to his rallies and his sound bites fill the nightly news.
But what happens next? The camera lights click off, and reality settles in. And the reality is rarely as exciting as the campaign. Today, Jackson is host of a cable talk show (yawn) and TC lobbyist for statehood for Washington, D.C. (double yawn).
Would Jackson really try to unseat an incumbent Democrat, however?
Sure. Especially since he has been blasting Clinton for almost a year now.
* Clinton has no urban policy
* Clinton sold out the American labor movement with NAFTA.
* Clinton's crime bill has too much emphasis on punishment and not enough on justice.
* Clinton has failed to make the District of Columbia a state.
And that last one bothers Jackson a lot.
While some believe all politics is local, Jesse Jackson believes all politics is personal.
And he is not forgiving Clinton for failing to make the district a state and Jackson a U.S. senator.
But why not run for the Democratic presidential nomination, as Jackson has done twice in the past?
Because it doesn't work. Though Jackson does well in the primaries for a while, as soon as he looks as if he really might become the nominee, Democratic voters coalesce around whomever can best stop him.
Nor does running as a Democrat get Jackson what would satisfy him: the vice-presidential slot.
Jackson came in second in 1988, getting 7 million votes to Michael Dukakis' 9 million and coming in first or second in more contests than Dukakis did. But did Dukakis seriously consider him for the No. 2 spot? Not a chance. And Clinton helped secure his own victory by stiffing Jackson in 1992.
So why should Jackson bother with a party that doesn't want to bother with him?
As an independent, Jackson doesn't have to worry about getting on the ticket. He would be his own ticket.
And he could campaign up until Election Day, appearing in the presidential debates and getting everything he wants: the motorcades, the Secret Service, the jets and the attention.
Besides, if he runs against Clinton in the 1996 Democratic primaries, he helps Clinton: By running on the left, he helps make Clinton look more like a centrist.
So is Jackson seriously considering an independent run? He sure talks like it.
He raised the idea on "Meet the Press" last October. And in January, he made what I believe was a very important move:
Jackson's embrace of Yasser Arafat, his "Hymietown" remarks and his close relationship with Louis Farrakhan had made him anathema to many Jewish voters.
But today Arafat is part of the Mideast peace process. Jackson has semi-apologized for "Hymietown," and on Jan. 22 it was Jackson who blew the whistle on Farrakhan's aide, Khallid Abdul Muhammad, calling Mr. Muhammad's now-infamous speech "racist, anti-Semitic, divisive, untrue and chilling."
The speech had been largely overlooked until Jackson called the New York Times and demanded that Farrakhan respond to the issue, something Jackson had never done before.
Three weeks later, Jackson savaged Clinton in a speech in Washington. In May, he held a breakfast with reporters to continue the attack and repeated the performance last week.
And Sunday on "Face the Nation," Jackson said that his making a "general election" challenge to Clinton "must be a live option."
But would Jackson really risk turning over the White House to the Republicans by draining off Democratic votes from Bill Clinton?
First, it would demonstrate Jackson's power and show he was a force to be reckoned with.
And, second, he doesn't think Bill Clinton is much better than a Republican, anyway.