Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill), 2nd district, resigned from Congress on Wednesday citing deteriorating health issues as the reason. The saga has played out in slow motion since June, and the resignation is part of the still unfolding drama. Much has been written about the congressman's fall from political grace, and the public is aware of the Department of Justice investigation over alleged misuse of campaign funds. Meanwhile, the denouement of Jackson's story, a plea deal, is pending.
Another investigation is under way by the House Ethics Committee, searching for answers as to whether Jackson engaged in brokering for the empty Senate seat of then President-elect Barack Obama. Due to Jackson's resignation, the Committee cannot punish him, but it can publish a report of its findings.
Jackson was known as an ambitious congressman and an eloquent speaker but was unable to distinguish himself during his 17-year congressional career. His constituents, however, were beyond faithful and re-elected him in November, despite his hospitalization in the Mayo Clinic for mental health issues, lack of re-election campaign, and ongoing investigations.
Naysayers understandably question whether Jackson truly suffers from bipolar disorder or if the diagnosis is a convenient diversion considering his legal troubles. CBS Local Chicago news reported his father, Jesse Jackson Sr., in reference to his son's resignation said, “This has been a day of boundless pain, in part because Congressman Jackson has been a good congressman." He added, "“He will get well in time, but it’s not the kind of illness where you can put a timetable on it."
Concerning Jackson Jr.'s bipolar diagnosis, it is not an uncommon one and his alleged irrational behavior, including giving a $40,000 Rolex watch to a female "friend," trying to buy a senate seat, and using campaign funds to redecorate his Washington home, is in line with untreated bipolar disorder. His father said, "Sick people do sick stuff." Yet, there are people with bipolar who haven't done the things Jackson did, but most don't have access to money for alleged misdeeds like Jackson Jr.'s.
Perhaps issues other than his mental illness also played a part in Jackson's downward spiral -- especially being a "junior" and the son of Jackson Sr., a civil rights icon. Associates say Jackson Jr. grew up respecting his father, but was closer to his mother as his father was often away from home.
The New York Times reported that Jackson felt extreme pressure to carry on the family legacy and that he grew up in a household that had "great expectations" for him. In 1995, Jackson Jr. told the Chicago Tribune, “If I want to be a lawyer, that’s not enough. I need to be a Supreme Court justice one day. If I wanted to be an elected official, that’s not enough. ‘One day, son, you may be president.’ ”
The last part of the aforementioned Tribune quote is a telling one. Jackson Sr. himself was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988. Although "senior" has a political platform, he had not held elected office at the time of his presidential bid and was not a serious presidential contender. Maybe, just maybe, his eldest son and namesake could one day fulfill Sr.'s desire and ultimate dream . . .
In 1987, Jackson Jr. graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management, from North Carolina A & T State University; a Master's in Theology from the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1990; and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1993. With three degrees, he completed his formal schooling at age 28.
When Jackson was elected to Congress in 1995, he was 30 years old, still had a youthful, baby face, not much experience, and his father's name. Jackson Sr. campaigned for his son and adamantly declared that Jackson Jr. was his own man. After Jackson Jr. won the election, he struggled to break free from his father's legacy and worked hard to create his own. Yet, in 17 years, he never became a Washington policy maker.
Despite mental health issues, ambition, and patriarchal influence on Jackson Jr., perhaps his resignation is not the end of his dream, but the end of Jackson Sr.'s dream for him. The writer met Jackson Jr. in the late 90s when he spoke to Northwestern University Medical School students about serving their fellow men as physicians. He said the work of a physician is a "calling," not a career choice. Possibly, Jackson Jr., at 47, has not yet realized his own unique calling.
Is it possible for "junior" who is no longer a revered congressman and won't become president of the United States to stage a comeback? He acknowledged his "mistakes" in his resignation letter which is a first step. It's possible to come back -- even after time served in prison -- and Jackson Jr.'s comeback would be an apolitical one.
America loves a good comeback story, especially when the fallen one is repentant and has sunk to the depths of despair and humiliation. When and if Jackson Jr.'s comeback occurs, it can be called a "come forward" into his own dream, one devoid of his father's vicarious political longings.
Disclaimer: The author met Jackson Jr. once and has no relationship with him or his family.
Copyright 2012, Phyllis L. Smith Asinyanbi.
A Family Business in Disarray, The New York Times.
Sobbing Rev. Jackson on son's resignation: Jesse Jr. 'is not well,' Chicago Sun-Times.