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Jesse Jackson and No. 2 Spot

June 29, 1988

Frederick Dutton's article is the latest in a series of commentaries that treats the denial of the vice-presidential slot to Jesse Jackson as fundamentally an issue of race. Obviously the racial factor is there. But it cuts both ways, not only because of Jackson's support among blacks but because the use of the racial argument so often obfuscates the other, more fundamental issues.

Dutton's article is instructive because of how casually he deals with those other issues.

Take his example of, "What if Rep. Pat Schroeder . . . had actually run" and finished second. (Exclude Jeane Kirkpatrick because, even though she did not run, Bush may yet pick her.)

In the first place, Schroeder would not necessarily get the nod for vice president, nor would it be particularly sexist to deny it to her. She might get it--quite possibly from just such a fear of offending feminist groups. But there would be a legitimate, defensible reason for denying that slot to her. Pat Schroeder is in the left wing of the Democratic party. In fact, if she had run and finished second, it would more likely be because of her ideology than because of her sex. For Michael Dukakis to run with her, he would have to be prepared to accept the controversy created by her record and her stands.

But the second point is that Pat Schroeder is the wrong analogy. She actually holds a political office. She has been Colorado's representative from Denver since 1972. She and Jackson pretty much share views on defense, but she also deals directly with those issues on a daily basis.

A more fitting analogy would be, what if Jane Fonda ran, based on her current political background, and finished second. After all, she's a lot like Jackson in many respects. She's bright, articulate, highly committed and intensely political. Her views are generally similar to Jackson's. She also has no prior political experience, and no past record to run on aside from her statements.

I think it is fairly probable that Dukakis would not be expected to choose her. I think it is also fairly probable that if he did run with her, she would create as much risk for his chances as Jesse Jackson.

The point is not simply that Jane Fonda's political mentors are similar in many respects to Jesse Jackson's. The point is that neither of these persons has a past which one could use as a frame of reference for evaluating their qualifications to hold any political office, let alone President.

Jackson's demonstrated qualifications, to date, are pretty much confined to his role in PUSH and his campaigns. His role in PUSH at best does not give much basis for demonstrating that he is qualified to be President. (The qualifications for vice president are the same.) Neither does his rhetoric, because it does not involve a history of having to make hard choices on difficult questions at unwelcome times. Neither does his record of visits to foreign leaders as an American private citizen. Unlike the secretary of state, the U.N. ambassador and envoys with defined missions, he can pick and choose when not to go and not to expose himself.

This is not to say that Jackson is unqualified. It is to say that there is no real basis for saying whether he is qualified to be President, either directly or by succession. He is too good a man to waste.

Jackson is only 46. He has run well. He is young enough to run better. He has earned the right to be considered for U.N. ambassador or a Cabinet post of some significance. But we have the right to insist that he take such a post, if offered, or find some other way of demonstrating his qualifications for higher office.

After all, I think we would insist on this much from a white man. By now, I think we have matured that much. At least, I hope we have. If not, we probably are in even deeper trouble than Dutton thinks.



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