Opinion: The Jesse Jackson lesson

Column by Lawrence Reed
Special to The Newnan Times-Herald
If you marinate your kids in the wrong values as they’re growing up, don’t be surprised if they end up screwed up, or in jail, or both.
That’s the sad lesson of former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who last month agreed to plead guilty to charges of fraud, conspiracy, making false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud and criminal forfeiture. He and his wife illegally sucked up about $750,000 in campaign money for personal expenses that included a Michael Jackson fedora, cashmere capes, a gold-plated Rolex watch and Eddie Van Halen’s guitar. They filed false income tax returns for the years 2006 to 2011, at the same time the hypocritical, left-wing power couple were denouncing rich people for not paying their “fair share.”
I admit right up front that I’m not a psychiatrist. I don’t know the Jackson family. But I’ll bet my wisdom teeth (I still have them!) that Jackson’s problems started in the home, decades ago.
It wasn’t merit or character or any particular expertise that put Jackson in Congress in 1995. It was mainly his famous name and the connections handed to him by his father and the corrupt-to-the-core Chicago political machine. It’s unlikely that brains played much of a role either. This is the same guy who proposed a couple years ago that every student in America receive an iPad from the federal government and then a month later blamed the iPad for “eliminating thousands of American jobs.”
Like his father, Jackson loved wielding power. He was implicated, though not convicted, of shady dealings to buy a Senate seat from the crooked Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is presently breaking big rocks into little ones at a Colorado penitentiary. When the Senate eluded his grasp, Jackson slumped into depression. He disappeared last year for months on end, then resigned his House seat in November.
If the apple never falls far from the tree, I think Jesse Sr. may have been an important reason for Jesse Jr.’s life path from power to prison.
Jesse Sr. did some good things early in life, but the example he has set for the past four decades is mainly that of a hustler, a demagogue and a race-baiter. CNN revealed that he had his “non-profit” Rainbow Push Coalition pay his mistress thousands of dollars to keep quiet. He owes much of his considerable personal wealth to scams, as documented in ace investigative reporter Kenneth R. Timmerman’s 2003 book, “Shakedown.” If Jesse Jr. saw his father as a role model, then he learned early that lying, power-seeking, corruption, double-dealing and cover-ups are the way to go in life. No wonder the son was attracted — and ultimately brought down — by an obsession for flashy, ego-satisfying but ephemeral baubles like furs, cars, watches and Senate seats.
It’s fashionable in some places these days to sneer at “old-fashioned” values like hard work, personal character and responsibility — especially if abandoning them buys you notoriety, wealth and influence. But the fact remains that teaching and practicing those values won’t ruin your life and put you behind bars.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, N. Y., and Atlanta.

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