Jackson Getting It Both Ways Means Some Get Nothing, by Stephen Roberts, M.Div.

Anyone believing “you can’t have it both ways” doesn’t know Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Jackson has flip-flopped on important issues, finding alleged civil rights justifications on both sides.  While politically advantageous to Jackson, the practice leaves him with a troubling legacy

Before he developed presidential ambitions, the pro-life movement had an ally in Jackson.  In 1977, Jackson wrote in Right to Life News: “The question of ‘life’ is The Question of the 20th century.”  He further wrote that “life is the highest human good because life is sacred,” asserting that abortion is fundamentally immoral.

In that same article, Jackson pointed out the implicit racism of population control, finding it “strange” that people “start talking about population control at the same time that black people in America and people of color around the world are demanding their rightful place as human citizens.”

Jackson also likened abortion to slavery, comparing abortion proponents’ arguments about a right to privacy to the defense of a past injustice:  “If one accepts the position that life is private, and therefore you have the right to do with it as you please, one must also accept the conclusion of that logic.  That was the premise of slavery.”

Jackson’s abortion opposition was brilliant and eloquent, but he betrayed his own eloquence for enhanced partisan viability.  Writing about the 1988 presidential race, Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy noted: “No other candidate this season, fallen or still standing, has shifted positions as radically as Jackson on abortion.”

Civil rights was Jackson’s rationalization for his radical shift.  At a 1989 rally, he called the pro-abortion agenda a “fight for the right to self-determination,” surmising that “people have choices” endowed by God – including the choice to terminate a pregnancy and end a life. 

Now, Jackson flip-flops on the lending issues, particularly “redlining.”  The term describes how areas on a map – poor and usually minority communities – are restricted from investment options such as mortgages.

Lenders restricted lending, fearing defaults on loans.  Jackson considered this racial, and supported laws such as the Community Reinvestment Act to prohibit redlining.  But these protections gave rise to lending practices that included the terms “subprime,” “interest only,” “no collateral” and “adjustable rate.”

It was Jackson, hosting the CNN program “Both Sides,” who praised former NationsBank CEO Hugh McColl in 1998 for promising $115 billion in housing loans to low-income communities.  McColl noted that his institution, which later merged with Bank of America, was “able to uncover wonderful people that were not [previous] bank customers.”  At a 2000 Property/Casualty Insurance Joint Industry Forum, Jackson praised this new willingness to lend, saying, “At first it was by regulation, now it’s by profit motive.”

Jackson apparently couldn’t even agree on a compromise.  Illinois lawmakers created the “Predatory Lending Database Pilot Program” in 2005 to target select zip codes in the Chicago area plagued by bad mortgages.  The program mandated credit counseling for people seeking risky loans or possessing bad credit ratings.  One participant, who sought a $50,000 home equity loan, later told the New York Times, “The counseling helped me understand this was on the excessive side.”

Jackson, however, told the Chicago Tribune the program had “the smell of apartheid.”  His opposition, and the protests of others, led to the program ending after just a few months.

When it all came crashing down and people began losing their homes, Jackson changed his tune.  At the Reuters Housing Summit in February 2008, he condemned the institutions he once praised, charging: “They began to stereotype and target and cluster whole communities.  It’s kind of like reverse redlining.”

Be it lending or life, Jackson is a chameleon, ready to adapt to whatever political environment he finds himself in.  As this double-minded man is blown and tossed by the waves of time and public opinion, should he be trusted?

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Stephen Roberts, M.Div. is a research associate for the Project 21 black leadership network and a seminary graduate.  Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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