Jackson should challenge parties, run independently

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- I don't know what Jesse Jackson is waiting for.

I don't know why he is hesitating to run for president of the United States.

Those who claim to know say he has ruled out running as a Democrat but has not decided yet whether to run as an independent.

Last September, on "Face the Nation," Jackson said challenging Clinton for the presidency as an independent "must be a live option."

Last Sunday, again on "Face the Nation," Jackson said running against Clinton "is very much a live consideration."

That's not much progress in 11 months.

I would think running for president would be an obvious choice for Jackson for two reasons:

He is unhappy with Bill Clinton, and he has a message to get across.

Just 13 months after Clinton was inaugurated, Jackson was already attacking him sharply.

"The administration embraces a recovery that it did not cause, while abandoning a covenant it did not keep," Jackson said. "Poverty is deepening, inequality is growing, hope is shrinking."

Jackson even came pretty close to calling Clinton a racist.

"Surely a large factor [in Clinton's policies] is race," Jackson said. "Why are we building walls around the prison budget and focusing energy on welfare reform? Sure, a large factor is race."

In recent months, Jackson has accused Clinton of having no urban policy, of selling out American workers with NAFTA, and of wanting to balance the budget by increasing the burden on the poor and working classes.

And Jackson has dropped hints as to what he might do to correct things.

"The history of America is a history of citizens moving outside of parties and traditions," Jackson said recently at Ross Perot's conference in Dallas. "The country is headed in the wrong direction. Washington is out of touch and in the way. Across the country, people are looking for new options."

But why doesn't Jackson want to run for president as a Democrat as he has done twice before?

Because it doesn't work for him. His campaign comes to an end when the last primary is over.

Jackson was convinced in 1988 that by coming in second to Mike Dukakis (Jackson got 7 million primary and caucus votes to Dukakis' 9 million) that he would be seriously considered for the vice-presidential spot on the ticket.

But he wasn't. And he probably never will be.

The Democratic Party is moving away from Jesse Jackson.

Bill Clinton used to head the Democratic Leadership Council, a group formed in part to diminish Jackson's influence in the party.

But if Jackson left the party and ran as an independent, there would be definite advantages for him:

He could stay in the game longer. His ability to get his message across would not end with the Democratic Convention. He would have to be invited to participate in all the presidential debates (Ross Perot set that precedent in 1992) and his campaign could continue right up to Election Day in November.

It has become popular wisdom that should Jackson run as an independent, he would doom Bill Clinton by drawing black votes away from him.

But that is not necessarily true. Black voters are not dumb. They may indeed decide that a vote for Jackson is really a vote for the Republican nominee and they might decide to stick with Clinton for that reason.

On the other hand, they might want to send a message to the current occupant of the White House by voting for Jackson.

Surely they have a right to that choice. And from Jackson's point of view, he is under no obligation to narrow their choices or stifle his message or even scale back his aspirations because it might hurt Bill Clinton.

I can see no good reason for Jackson to sit this race out.

Though Time magazine did come up with its own reason recently:

Time said that not only is Jackson older and less energetic than in the past, but also he is "paunchier."

I now have had the opportunity, however, to carefully examine the nine Republicans and the one Democrat who are currently running for president.

And paunchiness seems no disqualification.

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