And we owe it all to conspicuousnconsumption.nAndrei Navrozov is poetry editor ofnChronicles.nLetter From thenLower Rightnby John Shelton ReednJesse, I Hardly Knew YenSome of us down here took exception anwhile back when John Aldridge referrednto Jimmy Carter as “a redneck peanutnfarmer from Georgia.” We felt it was angross libel on rednecks.nOf course, Aldridge didn’t mean tonbe complimentary. Calling our formernPresident that was about as malicious, asnoffensive, and as beside the point asncalling Jesse Jackson a nigger preachernfrom Chicago. Call Carter naive; callnhim ineffectual; call him, even, a wimp.nCall Jackson manipulative; call himnhypocritical; call him, even, a knave.nBut let’s stick to name-calling that hasnsomething to do with character, ability,nor performance.nWhat prompts me to bring this up isnthe apparently quadrennial newsworthinessnof Mr. Jackson. Here he isnback again, like a bad penny. It’s temptingnto say that he’s the Democrats’nproblem—and it is fiin to watch themntiptoe around him as if he were a landnmine. But he’s not just an accidentnwaiting to happen to somebody else’snparty, he’s a problem for the rest of us,ntoo.nNot that he’s going to be President,nor even the Democratic nominee.nSurely by the time this appears in print,nthat will be evident to all. Even thenDemocrats aren’t that suicidal. But it’snregrettable that he has somehow becomenthe de facto spokesman for blacknAmericans. If he’s accommodated bynthe political system, it will be disastrous.nBut if he isn’t, many blacks willnapparently feel rebuked and scorned,nstill again. They don’t need that, andnthe nation doesn’t either.nHow can we account for the extentnof his support in the black community?nSurely many black Americans knownbetter. Surely their defense of thisnindefensible man is reflexive, knee-njerk, much the same as what I feltnwhen John Aldridge made me momentarilynregret that I hadn’t voted fornJimmy Carter. They must suspect thatnwhite folks dislike Jackson for thenwrong reasons—the way I know somenpeople disliked Carter because he wasna Georgian. Some of Jackson’s supportersneven imply from time to timenthat it’s only because he’s black that henwon’t be nominated.nFriends, that’s rubbish. The fact ofnthe matter is that if he weren’t black,nyou never would’ve heard of him. Hisnpolitics wouldn’t get him to first base innthis country. He is, basically, a blacknJim Hightower.nJim who? (That’s my point.nHightower is a Texas populist whosenpolitical career has probably topped outnat agriculture commissioner.) A writernin the London Spectator got it exactlynright when he observed: “If Jesse Jacksonnfails to be elected to office in thenUnited States this year it will not benbecause he is a black man but becausenhe is a socialist.” And, he added,n”Americans, very sensibly, do not likensocialists at all.”nThere is, in addition, the matter ofninexperience. As Mayor Young of Detroitnobserves: “Jesse ain’t never runnanything except his mouth.”nPersonally, I regret that the rightnreasons why sensible people, black andnwhite, should dislike Jackson — or atnleast dislike the idea of entrusting himnwith any responsibility—are so compelling.nI started out with a warm spotnin my heart for him. Of course, Inbriefly had high hopes for Jimmy Carter,ntoo.nStill, Jackson did go to North CarolinanA&T in Greensboro, and he’s beenna loyal alumnus. And the mother of anfriend of mine knew his mother, backnin South Carolina, and said she was anfine woman. (The South is still likenthat.) Besides, like many Southerners,nI’m a pushover for the traditional blackpreachernrhetorical style, and give Jacksonncredit: he spews rhetoric like a TednSorenson in meltdown. Much of it isnbaby talk, but you can pan in thatnstream and find real gold. How aboutnthis, from the summer of 1987: “I’dnrather run to the special interests thannrun from the special prosecutor.” Notnbad—not bad at all. Hard to imaginenWalter Mondale coming up with that.nBesides, Jackson used to say somennngood things. My memory isn’t what itnused to be, but I sure do remember hisnaddressing a convocation in ChapelnHill 15 or 16 years ago. He wasnpreceded on the program by an economicsnprofessor who droned onnthrough a paper on (as I recall) “humanncapital development.” Our blacknstudents had turned out in force tonhear Jackson, and their impatience becamenmanifest in conversations lessnand less sotto voce. When it camenJackson’s turn to speak, he began bynchewing them out. He said their mannersnwere abominable, and theirnmamas would be ashamed of them.nBesides, he said, the professor wasnsaying things they ought to pay attentionnto. How were they ever going tonamount to anything if they didn’t shutnup and listen to people who knewnmore than they did? (The professornwas Ray Marshall, incidentally, whonlater became Secretary of Labor.)nThat’s the Jesse Jackson some of usnused to admire. He was an impressivenfigure, preaching self-reliance and selfrespectnto a demoralized people whonseemed ready to hear that message. It’snhard to imagine that Jesse Jackson evennthinking “Hymietown,” much less sayingnit—and he didn’t pick that up innthe South, by the way.nSo, how did a black preacher withnSouthern manners and all-Americannvalues become a virtual Sandinista innlittle more than a decade? Was it an actnall along, just opportunism, recognizingnthat becoming the favorite civilrightsnleader of people like me wouldnpay off in money for PUSH and influencenfor Jackson? Did it just stopnpaying?nOr has Jackson really changed? Didninfluence and celebrity go to his head?nDid he fall in with bad companions?n(He certainly has some now, not justnminor-league bigmouths like LouisnFarrakhan, but the real McCoy: Fidelnand Arafat and Daniel “Specs” Ortega-)nIf the old Jesse was a charlatan, hensure fooled me. But I almost hope henwas. Because if he wasn’t—if he wasnthe leader I thought he might be—nwhat has become of him is tragic.nJohn Shelton Reed was recently in Indianas a Fulbright Distinguished Lecturernin American Studies.nJULY 1988141n