EDITOR’S NOTE: This appeared in the August 24, 1984, issue of National Review.
At San Francisco, Jesse Jackson’s oratory outshone that of Mario Cuomo. On the other hand, Mario Cuomo’s would have outshone, for that crowd, Abraham Lincoln’s. Political conventions are not to be confused with a week at the Aspen Institute. But there is something to be learned in reflecting on the impact of such as Cuomo and Jesse Jackson. The listeners, many of them, wept. As others do, if for different reasons.
The apology, widely interpreted as intended fro American Jews, whom Mr. Jackson has in various ways slighted, was dignified and manly. Moreover, any doubt that they were the targeted audience for that apology was dispelled when, only a few minutes after his Biblical shriving, Reverend Jackson was overheard to mutter to a confederate, “Did the Jewish thing go over?” It is as if Henry II, after submitting to his public scourging at the altar where his agents had slaughtered Becket, had, after the ordeal, pulled aside, plopped the crown back on his head, and muttered. “I hope that will satisfy those bleeding hearts.”
Intense meditation on what Jackson actually said yields a fascinating datum. There is no injunction in his speech, anywhere, to any American, to: do more, do better, deny himself. The single thing enjoined on the American citizen by Jackson (and Cuomo) is to vote. Because Democratic politics in San Francisco was all about the talismanic powers of government. All Ten Commandments, at the hands of Jesse Jackson, were reduced to: Thou shalt no fail to vote for socialism.
Consider just one of the hundred similar lines in Mr. Jackson’s speech distinguished by a lack of specific gravity. He said: “In Detroit, one of the great cities of the Western world, babies are dying at the same rate as in Honduras, the most undeveloped nation in our hemisphere.”
Now let us assume that this statement is true, which by the way it probably isn’t.
Why are all those babies dying?
Because Ronald Reagan is President?
If Detroit is one of the great cities of the Western world, why is it letting its babies die? The mayor of Detroit is a black man. Detroit has nine members in its City Council. Five of these are black. Why are they letting the babies die, in Detroit?
Lack of money?
The per-capita budget of Detroit is $1,317. Compare that to, say, Minneapolis. There the budget, per capita, is $993. And, when last heard from, the babies were not dying in Minneapolis, even though the mayor is a white man.
What’s going on, Lord?
It is this. Democratic politics has reduced to government fixation. Whether it is the babies in Detroit who don’t live because they are not cared for, or whether it is the babies in Detroit who live because they are not aborted, the government is the malefactor. In the first instance it should provide more free hospitals, doctors, nurses, and nutrients; in the second, more free abortions.
If there is crime in the streets it is because the government does not provide enough day care.
If there is unemployment in the steel mills it is because the government is using too much steel making submarines.
If there are a growing number of broken homes, it is because the government has not passed the ERA.
If there is tension owing to Soviet deployment of missiles in Europe, it is because the government has failed to lie down with Moscow, as with a lamb.
THE REASON for all those tears is that Reverend Jackson was giving voice to fundamental human aspirations: for a better, happier life. And although he frequently invoked the name of God, in fact the appeal was entirely secular. God did not invent Social Security, or budget deficits, or undernourished babies in Detroit. Nor is it reasonable to ask God to do something about it. God gave man free will, and that commitment was unchangeable. If man, acting on his own free will, can crucify Jesus Christ, God can probably tolerate the re-election of Ronald Reagan.
No, it was an appeal to Mammon that Jesse Jackson voiced. But because his accents were evangelistic, he achieved the evangelist’s effect. But there is a terrible hangover. The price of violating the First Commandment. It specifies that man shall not make graven images.
And what Jesse Jackson did, and it is consistent with what the Democratic Party in San Francisco was doing, is to make a great graven image. God has become big government.