When I heard the news that Jesse Jackson had facilitated the release of the three captured U.S. soldiers in Yugoslavia, I was filled with pride. I was proud that he could do what others could not. I then pondered what the various politicians were going to say about Jackson's remarkable feat e.g. people such as House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Dick Armey, and Tom DeLay. I figured they would be more concerned with Jackson's unofficial status and protocol than they would be with his accomplishment.
These were the leaders, who on April 28, gave the President and the U.S. troops an unprecedented vote of no confidence towards their efforts to thwart Slobodan Milosevic from initiating more genocide. Ironically, these Republican leaders are less concerned about peace, even less concerned about patriotism, and more concerned about posturing and one-upmanship. They probably share the same unique hatred for Jackson as they do the President. Jackson is one of President Clinton's spiritual advisors.
After listening to the reports of the release of the POWs, I assumed that the Pat Buchanans would certainly say that Jackson was a loose canon that needed to be corralled. After all, he can't be allowed to unofficially roam around the world holding tent revivals and solving problems for the U.S.
I am sure the three released POWs and their families are grateful to Jackson and unconcerned with protocol. In fact, I am quite certain that the imprisoned Navy Lieutenant he helped release in Syria in 1984 after his bomber was shot down by Syrian antiaircraft guns in Lebanon, the 46 American and Cuban prisoners he helped release in Cuba in the same year, and the dozen American hostages he negotiated the release of in Iraq after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait could care less about Jackson's unofficial status and protocol.
Jackson succeeded this time because of his presence, charisma, and spiritual approach. I think he was also successful because of his ethnicity. Ralph Bunch, Andrew Young, and other black diplomats have had a tradition of strong relations with the international community. The rest of the world does not look at the African American as an insensitive imperialist. They do not equate African Americans with the U.S. power structure. Others around the world know of the painful struggles of blacks in America and are sympathetic, if not empathetic. As a guest researcher at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development in Geneva, Switzerland in 1995, I found this stance to be the general sentiment of the international diplomatic community. Perhaps this was at the heart of the connection Jackson developed with the Yugoslav leader Milosevic.
My initial reaction to Jesse Jackson traveling to Yugoslavia was one of skepticism. After all, Jackson has made a name for himself as an egotist, hungry for limelight where ever it exists. Over the past 10 years, his ubiquity has seemed to annoy many, even African Americans. In 1996, he was the broker in the Texaco racial discrimination settlement. He was there praying with O.J. Simpson during the same year. In 1997, he was there flip-flopping on the Oakland City School's ebonics debate. Earlier this year, he was there for our wounded President's private repentance sessions during the Impeachment Hearings. He was even there (one of those times) defending Dennis Rodman after he had been suspended by the NBA.
Irrespective of what his critics say, he is still the most recognizable and influential African American leader in America. Jackson has been a tireless activist for civil rights. We do not see the schools, hospitals, community centers, and jails that he visits daily. We do not see the hope that he inspires and the lives he touches when the cameras are not around. Maybe we criticize Jackson, because he can do things we cannot do.
Although I would not vote for Jesse Jackson if he ran for President in 2000, my admiration for him is one of an American hero.