THE JESSE JACKSON PHENOMENON: THE CRISIS OF PURPOSE IN AFRO-AMERICAN POLITICS by Adolph Reed Jr. (Yale University: $17.50; hardcover; $5.95, paperback). Just how much did Jesse Jackson's bid for the presidency in 1984 advance black political goals? For Adolph Reed Jr., not very much. In "The Jesse Jackson Phenomenon," Reed argues that Jackson was not the catalyst for change that the media projected.
By hogging the headlines from established black politicians, Reed charges that the Jackson campaign caused as much division as it did unity among blacks. Traditional civil rights leaders like Coretta Scott King, and Democratic politicians like Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, disdained Jackson's candidacy and remained solidly in the Mondale camp.
While there is much that's good in Reed's view of black politics, still his professorial microscope at times does get a little clouded. Jackson's overall importance to the 1984 presidential election was more important than Reed credits.
He did energize--if only for a brief moment--the Democratic Party. His focus on "special interests" such as women, minorities, the handicapped, and "the locked out" did cause a stir in the ranks of the Party good ol' boys. Jackson's "foreign policy" stress on armaments reduction and non-intervention in Central America was a rallying point for many Americans concerned about peace and social issues. Unfortunately, Reed says much too little about this.