The news broke today that Jesse Jackson Jr., son of one of America’s most beloved civil rights icons, is stepping down from his position as an Illinois congressman, a seat he’s held for 17 years.
For months rumors have swirled about Jackson’s flagging mental health — it’s said he is bipolar— and a local CBS affiliate in Chicago says Jackson’s condition is “known to cause the kind of behavior that triggered the scrutiny of both his official duties and personal life, including improper, irrational spending and risky sexual misconduct.” At the time of his resignation, Jackson was still dealing with accusations that he tried to buy Barack Obama’s Senate seat from crooked former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is now in jail for his shady dealings.
While it may be your initial instinct to feel sorry for Jackson — it’s hard not to empathize with someone suffering from mental illness — or to think that his loss is going to somehow hurt the Democrats in Washington, D.C., alleviate yourself of those concerns now.
To be frank, though he’s got a great pedigree, Jesse Jackson Jr. was actually a pretty ineffective congressman. James B. Kelleher of Reuters reports:
During a 17-year House career, Jackson was a reliable liberal vote, supporting minimum wage increases, expansion of environmental regulations and gay rights and the 2008 bailout of the teetering financial system. He was also an early advocate of a strict timeline for the U.S. exit from Iraq.
But Jackson sponsored little successful legislation and in recent years he repeatedly introduced a series of quixotic constitutional amendments guaranteeing rights he said were grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The amendments never got anywhere.
His other pet project was pushing for a third major Chicago airport — a facility opposed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Mayor Richard Daley. Critics considered it a boondoggle.
In other words, yes, Jackson could be counted on to go along with popular Democratic opinions when he needed to (as his replacement will probably do, too). But when it came to being possessed of actual leadership qualities, as his surname might suggest he’d be, Jackson often fell short. That deficiency was put into even starker relief when Jackson put in almost zero effort into getting re-elected this election cycle, choosing instead to stay out of the public eye and focus on his mental health.
Kudos to him for avoiding politics when it was time to get himself the help he so badly needs, obviously. But it’s tough to get healthy while also trying to be a congressman and fight allegations of corruption.
Jackson stepped aside for the good of himself, of course, but it will probably also prove to be for the good of the nation.
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