10 FEBRUARY 2001, Page 18


Mark Steyn says that Jesse Jackson's

love-child — or 'indiscretion' — is Bill Clinton's real legacy

New Hampshire I HAVE been on a short vacation. Well, not that short as it turned out. Apparently, I was away so long I missed the entire duration of Jesse Jackson's withdrawal from public life. Citing his need to 'revive my spirit and reconnect with my family', the Reverend Jackson withdrew from public life on Thursday, 18 January. He returned to public life on Saturday, 20 January. I missed the whole thing. Two complete days without the Rev. Jackson on TV! No fewer than 48 — count 'em! — hours without the Reverend standing in the street shouting lamebrain anti-Dubya jingles like 'Stay out the Bushes!'

On the subject of staying out the bushes, all I can say is: physician, heal thyself. If Jesse had managed to stay out the bushes, he wouldn't have wound up fathering the love-child which prompted his two-day retreat. Oh, pardon me, love-child' is Fleet Street tab talk. The preferred locution over here is 'indiscretion'. Jesse's 'indiscretion' is now 20 months old, lives with her mother, Karin Stanford, and was discovered by the National Enquirer, the respectable prints having no appetite for this sort of thing.

Though his withdrawal from public life was a mere 48 hours, the Rev. Jackson returned to the scene a reformed man. For example, he no longer refers to George W. Bush as an 'illegitimate president', no doubt lest careless listeners assume young Dubya is yet another product of the Reverend's impressive loins. For his part, President Bush called Jesse at home to offer his support: the country urgently needed the Reverend to get back to his important work of going on TV and comparing the new regime with slave-owners and Nazis, which has been pretty much a full-time job for Jesse since the election. Readers may recall that, in November, the Reverend noted that Bush 'stopped drinking at age 40. He drank longer than Dr King lived.' With rumours of other 'indiscretions' multiplying, it now seems entirely possible that Rev. Jackson screwed around longer than Bush drank.

Still, heartened by the President's support, the Reverend announced that he felt it was important that he get back to his 'public ministry'. 'Ministry' is an ingenious term in the Jackson context. It doesn't imply anything so humdrum as being a minister, having a church, tending to a congregation, choosing hymns, writing sermons, etc. Indeed, I wouldn't mind betting that I give more sermons per year than the Rev. Jackson. (This Sunday, 11 February, I'll be preaching in my local Baptist church, if anyone wants to come along.) Of course, I'm only a lay preacher, if Jesse will forgive the expression, so it would probably be harder for me to pass off highly lucrative secular activities as part of my 'ministry'. Were I to say, for example, that I'm returning to my Spectator column because it's important for my people that I resume my 'public ministry', one or two churlish readers might have difficulty suppressing a titter. Yet Jesse has no trouble getting his hectic schedule of race-baiting and corporate shakedowns characterised by the media as a 'public ministry'.

For his return to public life, he chose the fourth annual convention of his Wall Street Project. This is a quintessentially Jacksonian scheme, of surpassing brilliance, for leaning on blue-chip companies to provide capital for various minority businesses, such as the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a charity run by, er, Rev. Jackson. AOL Time Warner honcho Bob Pittman was on hand to announce that his company had generously agreed to fund the Rainbow/PUSH website. Jesse damned him with faint praise: 'A one-eyed man is king in a blind city.' He was not aware that, as the Weekly Standard's Matt Labash was alone in pointing out, Mr Pittman happens to have a glass eye. Whether this makes the Reverend's remark shockingly oculist or a more fulsome compliment than intended, I leave to others.

It was at the generously endowed Rainbow/PUSH offices that Rev. Jackson began his relationship with the mother of his 'indiscretion'. Ms Stanford had written an adoring book about Jackson, Beyond the Boundaries, and he was so impressed by her perceptiveness that he gave her a job. Charity, they say, begins at home, and that's certainly true with this one: the Rainbow/PUSH coalition authorised its nonprofit Citizenship Education Fund, whose directors include Jesse's missus and two of his sons, to give Ms Stanford a pay-off big enough to enable her to buy a $365,000 house in Los Angeles. The organisation denies that this is 'hush money'. Instead, it's been variously described by Rainbow/PUSH spokespersons as 'consulting fees', 'severance pay' or 'moving expenses'. The Citizenship Education Fund, just one offshoot of the Rev. Jackson's hydra-headed charities, claims to provide civic instruction for the poor and disadvantaged. Its instructions would appear to be quite effective, if only in the sense that Ms Stanford is now relatively rich and advantaged. We vulgar Grub Street types are happy to pursue legover stories for their own sake, but in America there has to be a public interest. One would have thought that using a tax-exempt charity to set up your mistress would surely meet that test. Certainly, when televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker had their career-detonating hooker scandals back in the Eighties, it was the financial improprieties at tax-exempt charities that justified the media coverage: why, these frauds were preying on the weakest in society. But ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post are remarkably uncurious about whether or not donors to Jackson's charity wound up paying for his mistress's BMW.

But, even if they don't believe there's a fiduciary issue here, you'd think that even the grand bores of American liberalism would find Rev. Jackson just a little .. risible. I mean, here's the 'spiritual adviser' to the First Family, a guy who, throughout the summer of '98, breaks off his dates with Ms Stanford because he has to go to the White House to help Hillary and Chelsea come to terms with Bill's adultery. On that Thursday night when he quit public life, Jesse was evidently rattled enough to feel that his moral authority might be a little dented. But by the Friday it was clear that, au contraire, his fecklessness would be without consequence. The Democratic, black, feminist and media establishments lapsed reflexively into the same sorrowful tone they've had to adopt for so many icons of the Left: Jesse must be forgiven. as Bill was, and as long ago Teddy was, and for the same reason. The Kennedy droit du seigneur may have had famously catastrophic consequences, but Ted, with his pants pulled up, is a progressive, and feminists in particular have learnt to reach the same accommodation with the New Man's old weaknesses as those Victorian ladies who turned a blind eye to their husbands' whoring: they'll overlook their private failings as long as the chaps maintain a public facade and say all the right things about abortion, minority rights, gender inequity, etc.

If you believe that two of the greatest crises facing American blacks are rampant illegitimacy and absentee fathers, then you may wonder whether the Rev. Jackson is really a credible leader for his 'people'. But it's all comparative: Kweisi Mfume, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has, at the most recent count, fathered five illegitimate children by various women. And who knows? Maybe Jesse, now he's withdrawn from his withdrawal from public life, can shake down enough one-eyed Wall Street execs to install every unwed mom in her own $365,000 house.

Bill Clinton also found time to call Jesse, which was sporting of him because at the time the soon-to-be ex-President was busy unscrewing every light fixture and faucet in the White House and piling 'em into the trunk of his getaway car. New York furniture manufacturer Steve Mittman, who gave two sofas, an easy chair and an ottoman worth $19,900 to the White House 'permanent collection', was surprised to find that the Clintons had strapped them to the roof-rack and moved them up to Chappaqua. Lee Fickes of Cincinnati was equally bemused to find that his kitchen table, donated as part of a $396,000 refurbishment of the Executive Residence, had also disappeared. With hindsight, it's clear that the National Parks Service, which runs the White House, made a big mistake not getting a security deposit when the Clintons moved in. Even Bill's usual defence of 'walking a fine line' doesn't quite work here: this isn't a deplorable 'ethics violation', but outright theft. But Bill doesn't care, any more than he cares what people think of his dodgy last-minute, non-Justice-Department-approved pardons.

Jesse's instant comeback is the true Clinton legacy: the absence of shame, the official inauguration of a brazen Jerry Springer-fied public culture, where confession brings no consequence. !Yeah, I did that. Wanna make something of it? Hey, I gotta be me. This is who I am. What right have you to be "judgmental"?' Spectator readers, following Mr Blair's difficulties with Messrs Mandelson and Vaz, can take some solace in the fact that in Britain the system is still strong enough to enforce a sense of shame — though not, I suspect, for much longer.

As to whether the new administration can (as Dubya promised) 'change the tone', don't hold your breath. Heaven knows why the new President felt he had to phone the momentarily beleaguered Reverend, but the intervention was striking mainly as an illustration of the limits of 'compassionate conservatism': Dubya has time to call a man who despises him and has pledged to `delegitimise' him (another phrase you don't hear much now); on the other hand, he still hasn't had time to call Linda Chavez, his original Labor Secretary nominee tossed to the wolves for taking in a battered Guatemalan woman who happened to be an illegal alien.

For some days, the papers were filled with fevered speculation as to whether the Guatemalan in question had been seen doing Ms Chavez's dishes and, if so, how often. As I understand it, under federal law, if Barbra Streisand invites me round to dinner and I offer to help with the washing-up, Ms Streisand may be liable to pay social-security taxes on me. Obviously, the law has many grey areas: it would probably not count as part-time employment if, say, I merely rinsed out my own glass but left Barbra's piled in the sink. But, on the whole, if you're a Good Samaritan and you come across a helpless, hungry, desperate person on the side of the road, for God's sake don't make the mistake of bringing them home, cleaning them up, getting them a decent meal, etc.

For helping out a vulnerable, abused woman in need, Ms Chavez was compared to a plantation owner — why, she was taking defenceless minority females into 'indentured servitude', the Rev. Jackson charged. Say what you like about Jesse but, when he takes in a young woman, he doesn't let her do the dishes. Instead, he lets her do him.