Politics & Policy

End of the Reverend

It's an old story.

Do you know the story of Tiger Shaw? You do, if you paid attention to the life of Jesse Jackson this week.

While micced up to do a TV interview earlier this week, Jackson was caught on tape criticizing Barack Obama on issues, frankly, that Obama’s not going to get a lot of grief about from anyone who thinks and acts and talks responsibly about fatherhood. As much as I hate the overused idea of a “Sister Souljah moment,” this might be one for Obama: He can distance himself from someone he can easily afford to.

Here’s where Tiger comes in. In Bill Bennett’s 1995 book, The Moral Compass, the former education secretary includes a fictional story, “End of the Tiger,” written by John D. Macdonald of one Tiger Shaw. The story is told in the voice of a loving brother; Tiger was his sister’s boyfriend.

He was, that is, until Gretchen.

Gretchen was a baby goose the family’s youngest girl brought home one day. One day Tiger was at the family’s house. “He reached and took Gretchen high on the neck with one hand, slipped the gum out of his mouth with the other, and when she opened her bill to yawp her protest, he thumbled the wad of gum up into the hollow of the top of her beak. He released her at once and began to roar with laughter.”

The narrator relates: “We all laughed. It was so ridiculous. Gretchen closed her bill and it stuck. She looked astonished. She began to shake her head the way you shake your hand to shake moisture from your fingertips. She shook herself dizzy and fell sprawling off the bench. Then she began to run in circles in the yard, wings laboring, trying somehow to run away from this terrible impasse. Our nervous laughter turned shrill, climbing toward the edge of hysteria.”

It’s an ugly scene. “Above it all, above Tiger’s laughter and our shrillness, I heard the grandfather laugh, the drumdeepbellowing of him as he came down off the porch. Soon, in terror Gretchen began driving that precious bill against things, against posts and stones, against places where the ground was hard. Then we were all howling in a shared panic, in heartbreak and concern. Because we all knew what that bill was to her — knife and fork, comb and brush, weapon, tool, sieve, bug-catcher.”

It was a rotten thing to do to a living being. But thank God for it. The brother continues: “When I saw Tiger the other day, I suddenly realized that if we’d helped Gretchen quickly, then it might have been just one of Tiger’s little jokes, and Christine would have gone off with him that night and other nights, and the world might be quite different for her now. By delaying us, grandfather showed her Tiger’s kind of laughter, of which there is often too much in the world.”

Here in the real world, we have Barack Obama, as the goose; and Jesse Jackson, as Tiger Shaw. For whatever reason, Jackson went “nuts” on Obama — perhaps because he believes that Obama is talking down to black people, because he’s jealous that he’s yesterday and Obama is today and maybe (let’s hope not) tomorrow. Jackson showed a nasty streak to add to the irresponsible, divisive, hyperbolic nature we’ve known about for years. Watch the video, added to the words, see the shoulder jerk and the head movement; it’s hard to miss.

It’s important, of course, that we not judge Obama purely by his enemies. Jackson may be angry or jealous, but that doesn’t make Barack Obama a responsible leader or anything but a big-government liberal. He will continue to try to muddle the issues — as he has, somewhat successfully, on such issues of life and death as the Born Alive Infants Protection Act and the Iraq war — but just go to the National Journal Senate vote ratings to see how liberal his record is. He’s not who National Review readers want for president.

This incident, in other words, should not be a decisive election moment by any stretch. But, for the moment, he deserves our thanks. By being on the scene, Barack Obama has showed Democrats the Reverend Jackson’s “kind of laughter, of which there is often too much in the world.”

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