This glimpse of Jesse Jackson holding up a "Forward" sign at Barack Obama's acceptance of the 2012 Democratic Party presidential nomination is one of the saddest things I've ever seen. Jackson looks like an old owl on a tree branch in the teeth of a Chicago winter. The image has haunted me because Jackson would have to hire Captain Kirk to help him cover the distance between where he is now and where he could have been--and where, perhaps, he should be.

Just like Andy Griffith's iconic Lonesome Rhodes in Elia Kazan's A Face In The Crowd, Jackson stands there undone by shooting off his mouth into a microphone that he didn't think was on. And, as it was in the movie, the microphone was left on by someone Jackson trusted... Fox News, in his case:

Jesse Jackson was preparing his 1988 Democratic National Committee nomination speech when Barack Obama was still wandering around Africa in search of his roots. Obama would apply for the presidency of the Harvard Law Review and meet Michelle Robinson during a Chicago law internship before that year was out.

No one expected Jackson to place second to Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis for that nomination but Jackson led a committed, organized cadre of partisans to the convention. Jackson was pungently dismissive of the turnout at that year's campaign appearance in our little Northern California hamlet of East Palo Alto ("a bunch of n***s and some kids"); I had problems with him as a candidate, but I still contributed a "JJ '88" rap parody to the tune of Run DMC's You Be Illin' for performance during Jackson's convention party in Atlanta.

Jackson lost much of my support with a gaffe he committed during the 1984 presidential race when he referred to New York as "Hymietown." I can not--to this day--wrap my mind around racialist comments from somebody who stood at the elbow of Dr. King. I expect more of Reverend Jackson. Martin Luther King Jr. was no saint, but he was the standard-bearer of a cause. Bigoted comments from someone supposedly committed to brotherhood aren't just wrong; they're stupid. Jackson tossed away any credibility or sympathy he gained through enduring the trauma of seeing The Dreamer die in his presence. Personal accounts of an arrogant, self-interested opportunist only confirmed my disappointment.

Still, Jackson pressed on. He spoke out against injustice. He championed affirmative action and other causes. Jackson shepherded his namesake son through a career in Chicago politics.

And here we are today...

Jackson's son--a U.S. representative--struggles with bipolar depression. Jackson's daughter works as a contributor to the very network that threw her father under the bus. Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH organization plays a reduced role in social justice circles. Instead of enjoying his status as a civil rights eminence gris and instead of basking in the warmth of the advisory role he might have had as a former force in Chicago politics, Jackson joins the chorus.

The man who made "I am somebody" famous now "used to be somebody." Jackson stands alone on the convention floor holding a "Forward" placard, a groundling at the Big Show rather than a part of the brain trust calling the shots.

Jesse Jackson may be just another face in the crowd at President Barack Obama's pitch for a second term, but he is there. One way or another, Jesse Jackson always finds his way to the light.

Originally posted to MacDaffy on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 04:19 PM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges and Community Spotlight.

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