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Rev. Jesse Jackson Discusses the Current Political Landscape (Part 1)

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The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of America's foremost civil rights, religious and political figures. Over the past forty years, he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice.

Reverend Jackson has been called the "Conscience of the Nation" and "the Great Unifier," challenging America to be inclusive and to establish just and humane priorities for the benefit of all. He is known for bringing people together on common ground across lines of race, culture, class, gender and belief.

Reverend Jackson's two presidential campaigns broke new ground in U.S. politics. His 1984 campaign registered over one million new voters, won 3.5 million votes, and helped the Democratic Party regain control of the Senate in 1986. His 1988 campaign registered over two million new voters, won seven million votes, and helped boost hundreds of state and local elected officials into office. Additionally, he won historic victories, coming in first or second in 46 out of 54 primary contests. His clear progressive agenda and his ability to build an unprecedented coalition inspired millions to join the political process.

As a highly respected and trusted world leader, Reverend Jackson has acted many times as an international diplomat in sensitive situations. For example, in 1984 Reverend Jackson secured the release of captured Navy Lieutenant Robert Goodman from Syria, and the release of 48 Cuban and Cuban-American prisoners in Cuba. He was the first American to bring home citizens from the UK, France and other countries held as "human shields" by Saddam Hussein in Kuwait and Iraq in 1990. In 1999, Reverend Jackson negotiated the release of U.S. soldiers held hostage in Kosovo. In August 2000, Rev. Jackson helped negotiate the release of four journalists working on a documentary for Britain's Channel 4 network held in Liberia.

Against this backdrop, it was a great honor to have the opportunity to sit down with Reverend Jackson and discuss today's political landscape.

Kathleen Wells: Two weeks ago, we had a primary in Kentucky wherein Rand Paul, a "tea party" candidate, won the Republican ticket. Rand Paul contends that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should not pertain to private accommodations, i.e., the Act allowed the federal government to overreach into the arena of private institutions and impinge on First Amendment rights and that civil rights should be handled locally. Your thoughts and what does this portend, if anything?

Rev. Jesse Jackson: Well, as for Dr. Rand Paul - and I chose to call him doctor because he is a very educated man - Dr. Rand Paul. And his words are rooted in a deep historical suggestion - states' rights. There is the Texas school board making fundamental "changes" to its curriculum based on a states' rights argument. There's Arizona, seeking to enact its own immigration policies, based on a states' rights argument and as a challenge to the authority of the federal government.

This suggestion to pre-'64 has deep American roots. It was, after all, the fundamental conflict behind the Civil War. And it has a constituency.

When I first read about it, I thought about when Jefferson Davis said the Confederate Constitution makes unconstitutional the enactment of any law denying or impairing the right of property and Negro slaves. Another point in the address said: "Negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate states, shall be recognized and protected by the Congress, in any new states or territory that might be acquired by the Confederacy."

When that foundation was defeated in the Civil War, the historical successor was legal segregation. America, in many ways, is rooted in slavery, sedition by the southern states, segregation, and separation.

The day that Dr. King gave the address in Washington, DC in 1963, the "I Have A Dream" speech -- that day, from Texas across to Florida up to Maryland, people of color couldn't use a single public hotel, motel, park, nor library.

I was arrested in July 1960, 50 years ago, trying to use a public library in my home town of Greenville, South Carolina. Students sitting in at the Greensboro lunch counters were arrested. We were rigidly divided, and [that division] was protected by states' rights.

And so, [Rand Paul] is playing upon ancient fears. That was the suggestion. So he goes back and says he was not for racial segregation, but the Civil Rights (and Voting Rights) laws he questioned, specifically ends racial segregation. It specifically ends it.

Prior to 1964, African-Americans and Latinos couldn't rent a room at the Holiday Inn nor Howard Johnson. My father, like many other soldiers, had to sit behind Nazi POWs on military bases. Black soldiers had to sit behind Nazi POWs!

That was an ugly period in American history.

But some people keep having these throwbacks to that time. We are a better nation since 1964. Because we abolished legal segregation and prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, we can recruit black and white players to play together at the University of Kentucky in Louisville - we can play basketball together, because that law was passed.

Those who hold fast to that ideology are forever assigned to challenge the federal government. And sometimes it leaves them rather twisted in contradictions. They benefit from the federal government, yet they wield against it.

So, I think Dr. Paul underestimated the public reaction, and he began to try to backtrack.

Rooted in slavery and segregation is the idea of states' rights and property rights. It was never "racism," it was just "states rights" and "property rights" - people being less than the state and people being property. Dr. Rand Paul knew what he was suggesting.

Kathleen Wells: Just to elaborate on the notion held by the "tea party" folks, Rand Paul contends that a free society should allow for private discrimination, i.e., if private property owners want to discriminate, they should have the freedom to do so. Talk to me about this notion of freedom?

Rev. Jackson: Except the states' rights [idea] lost to the Union. Under states' rights, states determined that women shouldn't have the right to vote. They determined that workers didn't have the right to organize for collective bargaining, that people of color didn't have the right to public accommodations nor have the right to vote.

And it was that line in the sand that robbed our country of moral authority and talent. When that wall came down, we could speak to South Africa or speak to China about human rights.

Our moral authority as a global leader comes out of America's wall of segregation coming down and the enactment of the right to vote in 1965.

The moral authority that we have in the world today, comes out of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, i.e., we can say to China, or to Iraq, or to Iran or to Afghanistan to get like us - us since 1964. That us -- that new America, what I would call Dr. King democracy.

This is America post-1964.

I was down in Chattanooga, Tennessee, today [last week] at Volkswagen at their plant there. I saw workers, black and white working together, bidding for contracts together.

Under the old South, Volkswagen wouldn't have located in the South, because you would not locate in an apartheid zone. Before 1964, you couldn't have had the Dallas Cowboys and the Charlotte Hornets' behind the "cotton curtain." You couldn't have had the Olympics in Atlanta. You couldn't have had the Super Bowl in New Orleans or in Atlanta behind the "cotton curtain."

When the curtain of legal segregation came down, it enabled several things to happen: international commerce could invest in the South without stigma. People like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and Gore and Bush could run from the South, without the stigma of being from the South.

It freed the South of stigma - racial stigma. It opened up the South for new investment and for new relations.

All of that comes post-1964.

So, in many ways, to profess hesitance about that Act is a real painful throwback in time - for all Americans.

Kathleen Wells: But does it portend anything? Does it speak to the future? Where we are moving?

Rev. Jackson: Well, I think in the struggle between going forward by hope or backward by fear, hope is winning. But there is an element of fear that seeks the undercurrent - a fear undercurrent.

I've seen America maturing. It gives me my hope. August 28, 1955, Emmitt Till was lynched. In that America, it was so insensitive that there was no real pursuit of those that killed him, neither by the state of Mississippi nor the federal government. The guys that killed Emmitt Till lived 40 some years after that before they were hunted down... and most people right from the start knew who they were.

I once asked Mrs. Parks, "Why didn't you go to the back of the bus, knowing the risk that was involved? She said: "I thought of Emmitt Till, and I couldn't go back." That was a huge moment on August 28, 1955.

On August 28, 1963, eight years later to the day, Dr. King was in Washington at a huge multicultural, multiracial rally, dreaming of a new America.

August 28, 2008, President Barack Obama received the Democratic nomination in Denver, Colorado.

So if one looks at August 28, '55, August 28, '63, and August 28, 2008, we see the maturing of America and the growth.

So, while Obama didn't win or he scantily won folks in the south, in a comparative sense, one sees that hope is winning.

Kathleen Wells: Well, I appreciate your optimism.

Rev. Jackson: I know the undercurrent is present today, because even in 2010 we are free, but not equal. That's a different paradigm. One might say that while it's midday in our politics, it's still midnight in our economy.

We have an African American President; Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House, and two-three women on the Supreme Court. It's commonplace to elect women as mayors -- a gay woman in Houston and two black governors [one] in Massachusetts [and the other in New York].

Kathleen Wells: But this is symbolism, and it's only a handful.

Rev. Jackson: But my point is, when it's real dark, a little light will do you.

One sees the breakthrough of morning in our politics, but not in our economy - our political democracy is different from our economic free enterprise system. And you elect in politics every two, four, or six years, and the people do speak.

But politics is based a lot on legacy, inheritance and access, and laws of perpetual protection. There are two sets of rules there. And there is a dynamic interplay between government and politics as we've seen in the Gulf crisis, where you had corporations leveraging access to government regulators. The corruption of the overseers and the greed of BP - that combination made the world's greatest ecological disaster, because of lack of integral integrity, and oversight, and greed by corporations.

That same combination - lack of Congressional and regulatory oversight and greed - led to our problem with the banks. We bailed them out, with interest-free money, not linked to lending, not linked to reinvesting in America, paralleled with their rise in historic, record home foreclosures. So, even today, home foreclosures are outdistancing loan modifications.

Kathleen Wells: And this is what - the shrinking of the middle class is what is impacting John and Jane on Main Street. So, despite this symbolic victory and appearance that we are getting from having the first black President and all the other symbolic/beautiful things that we can see - the Supreme Court, etc, etc. -John and Jane on Main Street are suffering.

Rev. Jackson: They are suffering, in part, because of our trade policy. We've gone from 16 million to 11 million manufacturing jobs in about the last eight or nine years. We have been closing plants for a long time now - in a sense, subsidized by our government for a long time -- so now we have plants closing, jobs leaving, going to ever cheaper labor markets - without regard for human rights.

And while plants are closing and jobs are leaving, drugs and guns are coming. That's what serves to undermine and subvert the economy.

And while drugs and guns are coming in to our neighborhoods and schools, we will not revive the ban on assault weapons. Consider this: we've lost 6,000 Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last six years. But we lose 30,000 a year to gunfire alone - and another 100,000 people who are injured. That's both a health hazard and a national security risk.

On the other hand, we globalized capital - with consent from both Democrats and Republicans - without globalizing human rights, without globalizing workers' rights and women's rights, children rights, and environmental security.

And that's the rub of the great global imbalance today. It's like you have such radical and absurd wealth on the one hand, a sinking middle class and an expanding base of poverty on the other.

What once was horizontal segregation -- we could not sit side by side in the theatre, in the church or in the school, in the public park or in the library - that wall has come down -- now we are separated vertically - by the subsidized wealthy and the disenfranchised middle class.

Kathleen Wells: What solutions can you offer?

Rev. Jackson: Well, one is that we must determine that with a recession it can take time for a recovery. But a depression is a state of emergency that demands immediate comprehensive attention.

With America today facing 25 percent unemployment in most inner cities - and higher - that's a depression. With 50 percent of the youth unemployed, that's depression.

And so with this state of emergency we must have urgency.

We now must determine whether these huge pockets of poverty -- whether in Appalachia or rural Alabama -- are in a state of emergency. Or do we accept their plight as "normal" - as if it were natural. This is not natural. It is not normal.

It is NOT normal that we live with 50 million Americans who are food insecure, 40 million Americans who are in poverty, and 25 million who are unemployed.

We determined that we had to, as a national priority, bailout the banks without any punitive action for their greed and their misbehavior.

Now that we have determined those Congress people who allowed them to misbehave on their watch when they had the burden of oversight, and, just as we bailed out the economy, top-down, to stop that hemorrhage, we must now, in a way that is meaningful, address the hemorrhaging in our communities, "bottom- up."

What Roosevelt did, which was appealing to me, was determine that these banks that were without oversight and out of control had to be restructured, not just re-fortified.

The question is: Do we need three or four banks too big to regulate, monitor and oversee? Or do we need restructured banks that are targeted to fill the need? They may be in Appalachia. It may be a rural bank or an urban bank. We need restructured banks whose mission is to lend, invest and develop.

These big mega-banks and financial institutions - that's not their mission statement. They will lend if they have to. They will lend commensurate with their investment, but that's not their mission. Their mission is to make the highest profits possible - ethically or unethically, morally or immorally - mainly through "trading," not lending. That's their mission.

It seems to me - you asked about a remedy - we must consider restructuring the banks and financial institutions. We did NOT link the bailout to lending and reinvestment. We should have and now we are "paying for it" again.

Roosevelt fought for a strong FDIC.

Community banks are being wiped out by the droves, because they don't have the same government "protection" that the Citis and Goldmans and Chases got. The community banks didn't get billions in stimulus investment. And they are having to play by rules that apply to the big banks, but which hurt them.

I was talking to a banker the other day of a community bank where the insurance fee paid to the FDIC was just $70K a few years ago. But it's now gone up to $700K, and they must make, right now, a three years advanced deposit. So the banks have to put up $2.1 million, and for a community bank, that's a death knell.

That rule may have application for, say, Citigroup or Wells Fargo, but a community bank - they cannot take that. That debt ratio wipes them out.

So Roosevelt determined that number one, you must restructure the banks. Number two, you must have a strong FDIC and tough regulation, and number three, every family must have a chicken in every pot.

He addressed the issue of rabid hunger. That's just a moral imperative. People who are hungry can't function well. And we need a moratorium on foreclosures because people who are facing unemployment can't pay the house note. When you can't pay your house note, your neighbors aren't sound; your taxpayers aren't sound.

Right now, we have restructured the banks, and we've restructured the deck at the top, but the Titanic sank because water was coming in from the bottom.

We must now look at a part two stimulus. Assuming part one had the best of intentions, I accept that. Part two - we have left lingering a shrinking/sinking middle class and an expanding poverty base and foreclosures outdistancing modifications.

The banks want to modify house, by house, by house, by house, but that's like trying to fill up the ocean with a bucket. There must be some structural readjustment to home foreclosure.

When one house goes into foreclosure, seven houses next door lose their value; millions of homeowners are now underwater - the amount they owe on their mortgages is higher than their house is worth. When you can't pay your taxes, then your tax base goes down. Then you can't pay police, teachers, firemen, libraries, recreations. Whole states and counties and cities are facing massive budget deficits.

So we are looking at a number of cities moving towards municipal bankruptcies.

And if that is allowed to happen, it is going to pull down cities and states. Right now, cities are under siege. We are cutting public transportation and laying off transit workers. And reducing services and raising fares - it affects mostly poor people, because people on welfare can't own a car. And then you can't have welfare-to-work if you don't have access to transportation.

You know, transit workers are your green jobs, by the way. Green jobs did not start with a windmill, which is significant, or with solar, which is significant. It starts with transit drivers - 54 on the bus, rather than 54 cars on the road. Transit driver is a green job.

Newt Gingrich got a bill passed in 1998. Cities with populations over 200,000, get zero urban transit subsidies for their workers and transit "operations." The result is all these urban mass transit systems are laying off green jobs, and the strong state lobbyists are fighting for more highways and more bridges -- more cars, more oil, more gas, more foreign dependency, and more traffic and long lines of congestion... when, in fact, we need - what? To be able to make more steel in Gary, Pittsburgh, and Birmingham. We can make the steel and lay the rail. Americans can make the trains and make the buses and be more energy efficient in transportation.

You can connect Chattanooga and Atlanta through mass transportation.

If you cut public transportation, you are cutting green jobs. And you cut public education because you lost your tax base, and you lay off teachers. The Harkin Bill, which would save 300,000 teachers, is in trouble. Public education, public transportation, public housing, public recreation and lack of access to healthcare - that means there is a sinking feeling. That requires a plan for jobs and reindustrialization -- a plan! While the Harkin bill failed, [we made the commitment] for more for Afghanistan.

It's not just war that we are fighting, but we are also engaging in economic development.

We are building for Baghdad and Kabul.

We need that sense of a plan coming with security for these pockets of poverty, whether Appalachia or urban America and all over the country.

Kathleen Wells: Yeah, but we are not getting it.

Rev. Jackson: To me, that is the unfinished business - that vision of a great society, a war on poverty, housing and urban development of model cities. That vision must be revived. That was Dr. King's last mission. He said "If we have public accommodations, that's a great victory. If we have the right to vote, that's a great victory. And politicians like Lyndon Johnson and Kennedy, those are great victories."

He said, "But if we are spending more and more money on military and weaponry and the rich are getting more and more, getting richer faster rather than slower, and the poor are exasperated, we are looking forward to spiritual bankruptcy." That was his last mission.

To me, that remains the unfinished business for us as a nation to grapple with.

Kathleen Wells: But we are not moving in the right direction, when the Senate last week passed legislation that didn't break up the too-big-to-fail banks - didn't change the structure...

Rev. Jackson: And in the same sense, they will not allow judges the power to negotiate home mortgages in bankruptcy settlements. We think of financial hedge funders on Wall Street, but political hedge funders may be just as dangerous - i.e., politicians hedge by either raising money on Wall Street to win, and if they lose, they seek jobs as a lobbyist for Wall Street. So, they hedge. If I run and win, I get money off of Wall Street, and if I run and lose, I become a lobbyist for Wall Street. That's political hedging.

Kathleen Wells: Well, the integrity of the game has been destroyed, if we have the Senate not changing the structure of Wall Street.

Rev. Jackson: Well, of course that's true. That's the immoral pit we are in today.

Kathleen Wells: So, offer solutions.

Rev. Jackson: Well, the first thing we have to do is to at least cry out. If you are in a burning building, you may not have the water, but at least you have the observation to cry fire and not to adjust to it. And the Civil Rights - historically, we didn't have any political, economic or military power. At least, we had the power of conscience and the power to cry out. Crying out wakes up somebody, touches something, and you struggle for that nerve, for that cord to be touched. That is the flame of conscience that kind of drives us forward.

That's all Dr. King had in Montgomery, a voice. We didn't' have the right to vote. We didn't have any guns. We didn't have any money.

So we all are going to just have to use our sole power.

Kathleen Wells is on Facebook.

Crossposted from Race-Talk.