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Opinion: Settle Down In Congress, Junior

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Opinion: Settle Down In Congress, Junior

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WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 01: Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) talks with reporters after a House Democratic caucus meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol August 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate will possibly vote today on an agreement to extend the federal debt limit and enact spending cuts. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Jesse Jackson Jr. now has another chance…to be a congressman, and nothing but a congressman.

It’s not a bad gig, really. It pays $174,000 a year, which is far more than most people in the 2nd Congressional District can ever dream of earning. Jackson gets to fly between Chicago and Washington, and has fancy homes in each. He gets to visit the White House, and hobnob with other powerful people. His hours are so flexible he can disappear from work for months at a time, and still get a contract extension, as he did on Tuesday, when he was elected to an 10th term with 63 percent of the vote.

At the Obama Election Night rally in McCormick Place, Rep. Bobby Rush said he had talked to Jackson last week, and that the congressman expected to be back at work in January.

Jackson’s legal and ethical problems can be traced to the fact that he wasn’t satisfied with the political success he achieved when he was 30 years old. I suppose it’s the nature of ambitious people to always reach for the next big job. Jackson didn’t want to believe he had peaked at such a young age, in a job he got as a result of his father’s influence and contacts. He wanted to be Mayor Jackson, or Senator Jackson. As New York magazine suggests, Jackson’s grasping at the Senate seat may be the source of his bipolar disorder. After meeting with Gov. Rod Blagojevich about the appointment

Jackson was elated. That night, he confided to friends that he believed he was on the verge of getting the appointment. He seemed to be at a pinnacle. He was almost the same age his father had been when he first ran for president. Smaller and less somber than Reverend, with lively eyes and a ready smile, he was in the best physical shape of his life, having lost nearly 100 pounds thanks to bariatric surgery and a rigorous exercise regimen. And now he was about to be a United States senator. “Junior felt really good,” one of his friends recalls, “like this thing was finally going to happen.”     
The next morning, Jackson awoke to the news that Blagojevich had been arrested on corruption charges for, among other things, trying to sell Obama’s seat. Even worse, Jackson soon learned that the politician referred to in the indictment as “Senate Candidate Five”—who Blagojevich was heard on recordings saying had offered, through an associate, “pay to play” in exchange for the seat—was him. “All of his hopes were dashed,” Jackson’s friend says. “He went from as high as a person can be to as low in twelve hours.”    
In a panic, Jackson got on the phone. One call was to his father, who, in turn, dialed his old friend Raghu Nayak and conferenced his son in. Jesse Jr. asked if the FBI had been in touch with Nayak; yes, he said. Another phone conversation Jackson had that day was with a lawyer in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. According to Natasha Korecki’s new book on the Blagojevich case, Only in Chicago, Jackson was seeking assurances that he himself wasn’t about to be indicted when he confessed: “I’m somewhere between a nervous breakdown and insanity.”

Among Chicago politicians, the itch for higher office became particularly irritating after Barack Obama went from the state senate to the presidency in only four years. That same envy undid Rod Blagojevich, who is now in a federal prison for trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat. Should the feds prove Jackson tried to buy it, he could end up in a federal prison, too. If he doesn’t, he should settle down and accept his lot in life as a U.S. congressman.
    

 

This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.

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