Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. at an appearance in 2006 with wife Sandi and son Jesse… (M. Spencer Green / Associated…)
Not that he's missing much given the pointless political "show" votes currently dominating the House of Representatives, but Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s apparent disappearance is giving folks in his district heartburn. The Democratic congressman from Illinois hasn't been seen publicly since announcing a medical leave of absence a month ago, prompting his home-state senator, fellow Democrat Dick Durbin, to call for some clarity. "As a public official, there comes a point where you have a responsibility to tell the public what's going on," Durbin said Monday. "If there is some medical necessity for him not to say more at this moment, then I will defer to that. But he will have to soon make a report on what he's struggling with."
Is Durbin right? Jackson's office last week said he had checked himself into an inpatient medical facility to treat "long-term physical and emotional ailments." But nobody knows what hospital he's in, let alone what he's suffering from. Jackson's opponents are speculating that his emotional troubles might stem from his legal and ethical troubles -- he's under a House Ethics Committee investigation in connection with disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was caught on tape saying that an emissary of Jackson's, Raghuveer Nayak, offered to pay $1.5 million for Jackson's appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President Obama. Nayak was arrested last month on unrelated fraud charges.
But that's pure speculation; it seems likelier that Jackson has a serious medical problem. If so, his reticence is understandable: Diagnoses and prognoses can be uncertain, medical opinions often differ, and bad medical news can leave patients confused and emotionally reeling. Jackson may be keeping his condition quiet because he's not yet certain what his condition is and whether it will affect his political future. But that's still not a particularly good excuse.
VIDEO: Rev. Jesse Jackson addresses son's health
For Jackson, the voters are his employers; for him to keep them in the dark this long about the reasons for his failure to represent them would be akin to an employee going on medical leave for a month and failing to tell his boss the reason why. And it's not just a matter of attendance. Jackson won the Democratic primary for his seat by a landslide in March, and voters deserve to know whether he has a condition that would prevent him from serving another full term.
Few things are as personal and private as our medical struggles. Unfortunately for them, though, public officials' medical struggles are a matter of deep public concern. Illinois voters don't need to see Jackson's MRIs, but they do need a bit more transparency.
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