Recent political history is dirty with politicians who have learned the hard way that in this age of all media, always on, all the time, there’s no such thing as a “private moment” when you’re sitting in front of a mic, mere moments away from speaking to the entire country, or at least a good portion of it. Ronald Reagan joked in a sound check before a 1984 radio address that, “I’ve just signed legislation outlawing the Soviet Union. We begin bombing in five minutes.” George Bush and Dick Cheney were onstage in 2000 sharing a private moment about theNew York Times Adam Clymer, whom then-Governor Bush described as “a major-league asshole.”
Any politician worth his salt should also have seen Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway’s 1992 documentary, Feed. Seventy-six minutes of the year’s Presidential aspirants caught on camera muttering inanities, losing their temper, and generally having less than dignified moments while they were standing before the cameras but somehow allowed themselves to believe that, the presence of the cameras and microphones notwithstanding, their private moments would remain private and that the public at large would never view their raw moments and coarse humanity.
Jesse Jackson learned his lesson the hard way in 1984 that there are no private moments as a most public figure. During January of that year, he was in a discussion with The Washington Post’s Milton Coleman when he referred to New York City as “Hymietown.” Jackson was shocked, shocked when his comment–his comment he uttered in front of a live reporter, who is every bit as dangerous as a dead microphone, and after an intervening period in which he accused the Jews of trying to derail his candidacy and sparked the unhelpful ire of surrogate, Nation of Islam leader Reverend Louis Farrakhan, who pointed a finger at the unnamed Jews and threateningly intoned, “If you harm this brother [Jackson], it will be the last one you harm.”
A little late to PR101, Jackson would eventually slink into a synagogue in Manchester, New Hampshire, even though he continued to dig his hole deeper and deeper, noting that he was “sick and tired of hearing about the Holocaust.”
He’s clearly a slow learner, so it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise today when it was disclosed that, awaiting his appearence on FOXNews this weekend, talking smack about Senator Obama. Jackson was waiting for his appearance with UnitedHealth Group executive Dr. Reed V. Tuckson, when he said, “See Barack been, um, talking down to black people, on this faith-based…I want to cut his nuts off.” He punctuated his statement with a bite of his lower lip and a slashing upward gesture as evidenced by the lurch in his right shoulder. He’s a very slow learner, apparently, as he thought that whispering his comment afforded him some privacy.
He’s also a very slow learner in that, again, he believes that this is in any way at all a private moment. Speaking on CNN’s Situation Room, he explained that he didn’t realize his mic was on. Sound familiar? All I could think of was the defense attorney a blood-spattered client professing his client’s innocence on the basis of the technical impropriety of a search that uncovered a bloody knife and an email on his client’s computer to his alleged victim reading, “I’m going to slice you open like a pig, bitch.”
Reverend Jackson is apologizing for what was, again, “a private moment.” In other words, he’s apologizing for being caught.
One of his swiftest detractors was Senator Obama’s national campaign co-chair. “I’m deeply outraged and disappointed in Reverend Jackson’s reckless statements about Senator Barack Obama. His divisive and demeaning comments about the presumptive Democratic nominee — and I believe the next president of the United States — contradict his inspiring and courageous career…The remarks like those uttered on Fox by Reverend Jackson do not advance the campaign’s cause of building a more perfect Union.”
Indeed. And there was more. “Reverend Jackson is my dad and I’ll always love him,” said Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. “(But) I thoroughly reject and repudiate his ugly rhetoric. He should keep hope alive and any personal attacks and insults to himself.”
There probably won’t be much that will come of this little dustup, but glimpses of Jackson’s private side have belied his public persona. In that he’s not much more different than a number of politicians, if only a little more craven. In any case, “I want to cut his nuts off” doesn’t do much to feed the “up with hope” message. And, for the last time, Reverend, there’s no such thing as a dead mic.