09/20/2007 01:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Jackson Did Obama a Favor

South Carolina's largest newspaper, The State, reported Wednesday that Rev. Jesse Jackson accused Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama of "acting like he's White" over what Jackson considered to be a muted response by Obama to the Jena 6 controversy in Louisiana. Jackson later backed away from the comment, telling the newspaper that he didn't recall making the statement but, rather, that "he only wanted to point out that Obama had not seized on an opportunity to highlight the disproportionate criminal punishments black youths too often face." That is not exactly a denial, so I will take it as confirmation that Jackson made the comment. In running his mouth as he did, Jackson did Obama a huge favor.

I can't prove it, but I suspect that the Obama headquarters may not be too upset over all this. That is because Jackson is considered so anathema to many independent voters, even to many Democrats, his criticism of Obama serves the purpose of burnishing the image of the Illinois Senator. It goes something like this: "I can't stand Jackson; Jackson criticized Obama; therefore, Obama must be all right."

What Jackson and others who are criticizing Obama on this issue seem to forget is that overtly and exclusively Black candidates cannot become president. Yes, they can win 11 primaries and nearly seven million votes, as Jackson did in 1988, but they can't win a nomination. Obama can only be as Black as White America will allow, so don't expect to see him front-and-center on controversial racial issues. Be patient with Obama, Black America. He is walking a tightrope unlike any other presidential candidate in American history.

So, Jesse, charge him with "acting White." That only makes him more attractive to the White voters he will need to win the nomination. Keep up the good work!

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote. He blogs at