Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Lawyer, Not-So-Subtly Blaming Mental Illness

by Jim Geraghty

There’s a considerable amount of reaction to this section of today’s Morning Jolt:

Jesse Jackson Jr., Not-So-Subtly Blaming His Crimes on Mental Illness

Jesse Jackson Jr. will go to prison for 30 months, with the possibility of time off for good behavior.

At the sentencing, his lawyer made some odious comments.

Earlier, Jackson Jr.’s lawyer Reid Weingarten said his client felt “horror, shame and distress” over his crimes.

But Weingarten also attempted to downplay the impact of Jackson Jr.’s actions, since he took money from his own campaign fund. It’s not as if there are widows and orphans outside the courthouse who are victims and asking for his head, Weingarten said.

“This is not a Ponzi scheme,” he said.

Weingarten asked for an 18-month sentence for Jackson Jr. and noted, “He suffers from a very, very serious mental health disease.”

He identified the ex-congressman’s illness as bipolar disorder, and conceded that it was relevant even though “we didn’t plead guilty by reason of insanity.”

What is bipolar disorder, again?

People with bipolar disorder experience unusually intense emotional states that occur in distinct periods called “mood episodes.” Each mood episode represents a drastic change from a person’s usual mood and behavior. An overly joyful or overexcited state is called a manic episode, and an extremely sad or hopeless state is called a depressive episode. Sometimes, a mood episode includes symptoms of both mania and depression. This is called a mixed state. People with bipolar disorder also may be explosive and irritable during a mood episode.

Does bipolar disorder make you divert $750,000 in campaign donations to personal use? Does it make you use that money to buy items from a “$43,000 gold Rolex to cashmere capes — capes, plural — to nearly $20,000 of Michael Jackson memorabilia?” Does bipolar disorder somehow interfere with people’s ability to know right from wrong, or illegal from legal? When Jackson Jr. took that money and spent it on himself, was that the bipolar disorder, or just being a selfish, greedy jerk?

Jackson Jr. and his lawyer would undoubtedly insist they genuinely care about those with mental illness, and combatting the stigma it still carries in many corners of our society today. But how does it help those with bipolar disorder to emphasize the mental illness in the explanation of the crime?

Doesn’t that implicitly tell the rest of society that people with bipolar disorder are prone to commit fraud and use others’ funds for their personal use?

While I wouldn’t dispute that bipolar disorder can influence a person’s actions, all Americans, no matter their state of mental health or ill health, are bound by the same laws. The law says that if you ask people for money to finance your reelection campaign for the House of Representatives, you can’t turn around and spend that money on Rolexes and cashmere capes — even if you have bipolar disorder. This was not a one-time error in judgment or an implusive purchase; this was many, many purchases over an extended period of time, and Mrs. Jackson was involved in similar criminal activity, with no diagnosis of bipolar disorder on her part.

It’s an updated version of “the devil made me do it” — an attempt to blame an external force instead of taking true responsibility for one’s actions.

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