And that's why this quote from the Rev. Jackson, spoken in South Carolina yesterday, is so interesting:
“If I were a candidate, I’d be all over Jena,” Jackson said after an hour-long speech at Columbia’s historically black Benedict College.
He's referring to the Jena Six -- black teenagers who feel victim to what appears to be the racial prejudice of authorities in a small Louisiana town.
But Jackson doesn't seem to understand Barack Obama or his candidacy, which is surprising, because Jackson is a supporter, albeit one who Obama has not seen fit to draw into his inner circle. (The reporter David Mendell, in his new book about Obama, has a great anecdote about how Jackson, spying Obama's daughter Sasha at an inaguration event, lifted her up and put her on a small pedestal to pose for pictures. When the cameras stop flashing, Jackson stepped away, leaving his three-year-old girl teetering on a tall block of concrete.)
Barack Obama, while acknowledging that he owes a significant debt to Jesse Jackson, is not running as the candidate of the Democratic urban machine, or as the candidate of African Americans, or as the candidate of the African American political establishment. His run , its assumptions and the way Obama interacts with the establishment is predicated on difference.
It's equally inaccurate to call Obama a deliberate foil for Jackson, who is associated in the minds of many white Democrats and non-Democrats with a type of politics that makes them nervous or uncomfortable. He certainly isn't trying to convince whites that he is less "scary" than Jackson. Now, he maybe he is less "scary," but that's an effect of Obama's personality and biography, and not anything related to choices he made during his campaign.
One Obama adviser chalks the tension up to age and experience: Obama is literally a generation away from Jesse Jackson and would therefore not be expected to share his outlook, worldview, predispositions or habits.