Jackson said Obama’s too white

By Nobel Johns

WASHINGTON (BNW) — Sen. Barack Obama will not be the democratic nomination for president. Not because Jesse Jackson called him too white, not even though big, fat funky Winfrey Oprah came in his support. He won’t be the nominee because the political system is rigged for only insiders in the Democratic Party.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Thursday that a South Carolina newspaper misinterpreted his comments when it reported he said Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is "acting like he's white."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks to the press Tuesday in Jena, Louisiana.

The State, a South Carolina newspaper, reported Wednesday that Jackson's comments were made in the context of criticizing Obama and the other presidential candidates for not paying more attention to the recent racially charged incident involving the arrest of six black juveniles in Jena, Louisiana, on murder charges.

"There's an unfortunate misinterpretation," Jackson said. "The fact is, I endorse Barack without hesitation and support him today unequivocally."

HE is a media darling, a paparazzi target and a source of inspiration for millions of Democrats who dream of retaking the White House in 2008. But Senator Barack Obama, the charismatic African-American who is shaking up the presidential primary race, has not impressed some of America’s most powerful black activists.

Civil rights leaders who have dominated black politics for much of the past two decades have pointedly failed to embrace the 45-year-old Illinois senator who is considering a bid to become America’s first black president.

At a meeting of activists in New York last week, the Rev Jesse Jackson, the first black candidate to run for president, declined to endorse Obama. “Our focus right now is not on who’s running, because there are a number of allies running,” Jackson said.

The Rev Al Sharpton, the fiery New York preacher who joined the Democratic primary race in 2004, said he was considering another presidential run of his own. And Harry Belafonte, the calypso singer who became an influential civil rights activist, said America needed to be “careful” about Obama: “We don’t know what he’s truly about.”

The unexpected coolness between the old civil rights guard and the new Democratic hopeful has added an intriguing twist to the budding rivalry between Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton, who hopes to emulate her husband, former president Bill Clinton, in attracting support from black voters.

The importance of the black vote — and the still-potent influence of community leaders such as Jackson and Sharpton — was underlined last week when both Clinton and Obama appeared at different times in New York at a black business conference organised by Jackson’s Rainbow/Push Coalition.

Clinton was applauded at a breakfast meeting for her attacks on President George W Bush’s economic policies of “tax breaks for the rich”. She added: “It is not rich Americans who have made this country great. It is hard-working Americans who have worked hard to lift themselves and their children up.”

Delayed by bad weather, Obama turned up in the evening to pay respectful homage to Jackson’s presidential bids in the 1980s. “I owe him a great debt,” Obama said. “I would not be here had it not been for 1984 . . . for 1988. If I’m on the cover of Ebony (an African-American magazine), it’s not because of me. It’s because a whole bunch of folks did the work to put me there.”

Yet Obama’s charm and eloquence have not wooed the old guard.

“They are basically jealous,” said a Democratic strategist who has not yet decided which candidate he intends to support. “They’ve been toiling in the trenches for decades, and along comes this son of a Kenyan farmer and suddenly he’s measuring the drapes in the Oval Office.”

Sharpton, 52, is widely considered to have no better chance of winning the Democratic nomination than in 2004, when he never amassed more than a few percentage points in the polls but still made a national impact with his barnstorming performances in the televised primary debates.

When asked about Obama’s likely candidacy, the preacher, renowned for outrageous self-publicising antics, shrugged: “Right now we’re hearing a lot of media razzle-dazzle. I’m not hearing a lot of meat, or a lot of content. I think when the meat hits the fire, we’ll find out if it’s just fat, or if there’s some real meat there.”

Belafonte, who returns to British cinema screens shortly with a small role in Bobby, the new Emilio Estevez film about the assassination of Robert F Kennedy, also cast doubt on Obama’s credentials as a legitimate candidate.

“He’s a young man in many ways to be admired,” Belafonte said. “Obviously very bright, speaks very well, cuts a handsome figure. But all of that is just the king’s clothes. Who’s the king?” There were contrasting views on the likely impact on Obama’s campaign of black competition or criticism. One analyst argued that a Sharpton candidacy would “put Obama on the spot” by forcing him to address awkward civil rights issues such as police brutality and racial profiling that he tends to steer clear of. One Democratic blogger argued that Sharpton was “just what the doctor ordered to keep Obama on the straight and narrow”.

Others suggested that Sharpton would help Clinton by dividing black primary voters. In one interview last week, Sharpton warned that Obama could not take the black vote for granted. A strategist pointed out, however, that Obama could emerge as a “model of reason, compared to that blowhard Al (Sharpton)”.

Jackson also reportedly said on Tuesday that Obama needs to be bolder in his stances if he wants to make inroads in South Carolina. Obama trails rival Sen. Hillary Clinton in South Carolina by 18 points, according to a recent LA Times/Bloomberg poll.

When informed the newspaper intends to stand by its reporting of the quote, Jackson said, "I have not in any way engaged into the degrees of blackness debate." Jackson added he continues to support Obama, whom he called brilliant.

Jackson, along with civil rights activists such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, organized a march Thursday in Jena, where thousands of protesters clogged the tiny town to show their indignation over what they consider unjust, unequal punishments meted out in two racially charged incidents.

Sharpton called Jena the beginning of the 21st century civil rights movement. "There's a Jena in every state," Jackson told the crowd in Jena on Thursday morning.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Obama said his previous statements about the Jena case "were carefully thought out" with input from his national campaign chairman and Jackson's son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois.

"Outrage over an injustice like the Jena 6 isn't a matter of black and white. It's a matter of right and wrong," Obama said in the statement.

The elder Jackson, who ran for president twice in the 1980s, endorsed Obama's White House bid earlier in the year. Jackson won the South Carolina Democratic primary, where African American voters play an influential role, in both presidential bids.

"If I were a candidate, I'd be all over Jena," the prominent civil rights activist said Tuesday in Columbia, South Carolina, The State newspaper reported. "Jena is a defining moment, just like Selma was a defining moment."

Tensions had simmered at Jena High School and in the small town for the first three months of the 2006 school year after a black student asked the vice principal if he and some friends could sit under an oak tree where white students typically congregated.

Told by the vice principal they could sit wherever they pleased, the student and his pals sat under the sprawling branches of the shade tree in the campus courtyard.

The next day, students arrived at school to find three nooses hanging from those branches. According to The Town Talk newspaper in nearby Alexandria, the school's principal recommended expulsion for those involved in placing the nooses. Instead, the newspaper reported, a school district committee suspended three white students for three days, calling the incident a "prank."

On December 4, several students jumped a white classmate, Justin Barker, knocking him unconscious while stomping and kicking him. The charges against the six blacks — dubbed the "Jena 6" — resulted from that incident.

Obama formally released a statement on the case Friday evening after one of the charges against the teen was thrown out, saying, "I am pleased that the Louisiana state appeals court recognized that the aggravated battery charge brought in this case was inappropriate."

"I hope that today's decision will lead the prosecutor to reconsider the excessive charges brought against all the teenagers in this case," he added. "And I hope that the judicial process will move deliberately to ensure that all of the defendants will receive a fair trial and equal justice under the law."

He also said in a separate statement last week, "When nooses are being hung in high schools in the 21st century, it's a tragedy. It shows that we still have a lot of work to do as a nation to heal our racial tensions. This isn't just Jena's problem; it's America's problem."

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said Obama is under special pressure because he is the only African-American running for president.

But Obama is not of the same generation of black leaders, such as Jackson, who came out of the civil rights moment, Schneider said.

"I think that gives him a special position," Schneider said. "He is running on his appeal — to white voters as well as to African-American voters — as a uniter."

"He doesn't want to be a divider in this case," Schneider said.

Meanwhile, Obama's chief rivals for the Democratic nomination, Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, have also recently condemned the Jena case.

Clinton said the controversy surrounding the Jena 6 case is a "teachable moment for America."

"People need to understand that we cannot let this kind of inequality and injustice happen anywhere in America," the Democratic presidential hopeful told Sharpton when she called his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday afternoon.

At last Saturday's NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner in Charleston, South Carolina, Clinton said, "There is no excuse for the way the legal system treated those young people. ... This case reminds us that the scales of justice are seriously out of balance when it comes to charging, sentencing, and punishing African-Americans."

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