FOR eight years, Ronald Reagan has been running the country for the privileged, pampered and prosperous. His question to America in 1980--"Are you better off than you were four years ago?"--was directed at the people who were better off, period.
Under Reagan's presidency, fewer dollars headed toward the hungry and homeless. More found their way to the overstocked and the overindulged. A recently-released report by the Congressional Budget Committee admitted as much. Former Reagan Budget Director David Stockman said some time ago that this outcome was no accident.
In eight years, Ronald Reagan has made the rich richer and the poor more discontent.
In 1984, Jesse Jackson ran a campaign for the people at the bottom half, the people who could not respond to Reagan's question because they saw little difference in their situations. There isn't much of a leap from very bad to bad.
Jackson's coalition, which he called the "rainbow," spread from Maine to Montana, Arkansas to Alaska. It included farmers and factory workers, teachers and technicians. It brought together all people who felt shut out of Ronald Reagan's America.
Four years later, Ronald Reagan is still rich America's president. Jesse Jackson is still the other America's candidate, and this time around, that other America is increasingly white or Hispanic. He finished second in Minnesota and Maine, after all. This time around, Jesse Jackson is running for president; he is not running as the leader of Black America.
JESSE Jackson has often portrayed himself as a "Tree shaker, not a jelly maker." It's time to shake the tree.
Jackson's campaign is one that sides with the unions and the dispossessed and promises to bring an end to corporate power. He notes in speeches to migrant workers, laid off laborers, and unemployed youths, that the major corporations of this country pay less in taxes than do the average American. Taxes will be raised under a Jackson presidency. Those who will be paying are Exxon and General Motors, IBM and Bechtel.
Education is the fulcrum of Jesse Jackson's domestic vision. Jackson believes that if the United States takes care of its children, then its children will take care of it. Jackson's framing of the issue differs starkly from his rivals, who see education an economic issue, a necessity if we are to compete in the world. For Jackson, education is about equity, the opportunity for all of America's young to exercise their minds.
He advocates a "Head Start" program for the nation's youngsters. Under Jackson's plan, the government would make pre-school and day-care programs free. Government, Jackson says, must show it cares from the beginning.
The recent increase in teenage pregnancies and drug abuse can be curbed, Jackson says, but only if Americans are willing to accept the problem and meet it head on. Too often, Jackson says, we fail to see America's children as "our children," choosing to ignore them as "someone else's problem." But, as Jackson says, the children in this country are here to stay. For years, Jackson has led a self-styled crusade against drug use, telling America's young and poor that they are somebody, that they need "hope in their brains, not dope in their veins." Just saying "No" is not enough, and Jackson knows this. His campaign is about teaching the locked out to say "Yes"--to themselves.
JACKSON has always proved himself courageous. He marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s--a movement that his current rivals were alarmingly distant from. Today, Jackson is the only candidate who openly welcomes gays and lesbians into his coalition, welcoming to Congress the current Lesbian and Gay Rights Bill, which forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation. On the AIDS question, Jackson advocates more federal funding for research and treatment. Only Jackson, among all the presidential candidates, marched in last year's gay march on Washington.
International issues--Central and South America, the Soviet Union and the Middle East--continue to haunt this administration and this country. Reagan's dealings with Iran left the United States adrift. Money--not morality--was Reagan's chief diplomatic weapon.
This campaign, Jackson is noticeably more restrained in his foreign policy platform, but his essential vision remains, and it is one that respects the rights of the oppressed. Unlike any other candidate now running, Jackson places South Africa at the top of his list of vital areas of concern.
Jackson has long been criticized--to use too gentle a word--for his stands against Israeli policy, and his embracing of the P.L.O. But can one look on the events of the past months in Israel, and not think that a Palestinian homeland is necessary, that our silence no longer serves Israel, and that a president who can bring the Palestinians into the peace process may be just the answer?
Twenty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. And the question lingered as to whether the dream of a just America, living in peace, open to all Americans--"Black men and White men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics"--would ever become reality. King's poor people's campaign seemed to die with that bullet blast in Memphis. But in 1988, that poor people's campaign has been reborn. A vote for Jesse Jackson is a vote for a dream.
That dream of course is not a new one, it was the dream of a poor Georgia populist of the nineteenth century. Tom Watson told his followers, poor Southerners, Black and white, in 1892 that: "You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both." It is time we understood this, and it is time we voted for Jesse Jackson.