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Jewish World Review May 4, 2001/ 11 Iyar 5761

Wesley Pruden

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The slippery slope for Jesse Jackson -- THE good news for the multitudes weary of Jesse Jacksonīs showboating every time he sees a notepad and a Kodak Brownie is that he appears to be on the slippery slope, sliding downhill in a hurry.

The bad news is that his likeliest successor appears to be Al Sharpton.

The most famous preacher in Chicago has been in what one of his colleagues calls "a free fall" since the disclosure that he fathered a love child with a women who worked for him was followed by disclosures of how he shakes down the meek, the timid and the cowardly who head some of Americaīs largest corporations.

Mr. Jesse could dismiss a lot of the criticism as the work of that all-purpose vast right-wing conspiracy (the conspiracy that Hillary Clinton famously identified as peddling the lie that Bill had been diddling an intern at the office): "The honkies are out to get me." What he canīt dismiss is the moral outrage of his oldest colleagues.

Last week, the Village Voice, which often scoops its mainstream rivals on whatīs actually going on in Gotham, revealed the licking administered to Mr. Jesse by the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, pastor of the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem and, like Mr. Jesse, a one-time associate of Martin Luther King.

Mr. Walker is outraged that Jesse Jacksonīs conduct has painted black folks as trashy in the eyes of the public (much in the way, some of us might note, that trashy rednecks and low-life crackers sometimes hold up the Confederate flag to the scorn of those who donīt know any better).

The Voice reprinted Mr. Walkerīs letter, and to call it scathing doesnīt do it justice. If Mr. Jesse complains that Wyatt Tee Walker is only saying what a lot of the rest of us have been saying for years, heīll only be telling it like it is. What enrages Mr. Walker is that Jesse Jackson asked to speak at his church as an act of penance, to apologize to his brothers and sisters in Christ for his abuse of his marriage vow, and when he showed up -- in Mr. Walkerīs absence -- he turned a private "Service of Penance" into a political rally, slipping the feed bag on several of his favorite hobby horses.

"I was candid enough to voice my reservations about Canaan being the venue since I could not be present," he wrote. "I acceded to your wishes reluctantly and quickly discouraged you from making it a cause celebre when you mentioned a choir. I said to you that I did not think you should speak unless you made some . . . apology for your behavior and ask for prayers and understanding. The tape of your statements revealed that you did neither."

The service, he said, was turned into "a circus," with photographers standing on the pews to get better angles, with Rep. Charlie Rangel invited to mock "again and again, from my pulpit" those who dared to be offended by Mr. Jesseīs behavior, telling them, scornfully, to "get over it." The broadcast of the service, meant to be a private session with the congregation, "reinforced the image in the general community that people of African ancestry have little sense of morality."

And that was only the warm-up. "The bottom line, in my view, is that you cannot help yourself," he continued. "Your addiction to the need for media attention seems to be fatal and you have fallen into the practice of using people for your advantage and personal aggrandizement . . . you have not even had enough grace to call and thank us for opening our doors to your questionable purposes. I nixed the choir business and you arrive with the so-called "Soul Stirrers" who sing for forty minutes in violation of what was agreed upon. I suppose I should not be surprised since the only time I have heard from you in the last ten years is when you wanted something."

The brazen pretender to the mantle of Martin Luther King, Mr. Walker said, must now expect scorn and ridicule because he did not keep his word about taking a sabbatical as a symbol of penance. "I fear that you have damaged your credibility beyond repair in your laissez faire attitude toward the mess you have made."

The tragedy of Jesse Jackson, like that of Bill Clinton, is that such promise was blighted by immense flaws of character. Once upon a time a lot of people believed in him, in his eloquence, his creativity, his fearlessness. But he returned trust with mockery of that trust, demonstrating (again like Bill Clinton) that he was in it only for himself, for the self-gratification of his own ego.

The anger of his old friends, like Wyatt Tee Walker, is not over his stumbling into a temptation of the flesh. Itīs a dishonest man who has no sympathy for that. Betraying friends is another matter, and when a man betrays friendships in wholesale numbers, he can expect only what he gets, in wholesale numbers.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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