IN the same year that a Black American has advanced farther than any other in history, 1988 could also be the year of the closing of the Black Political Mind.
Clearly, Rev. Jesse Jackson has nitched a spot for himself in history. New Republic writer Hendrik Hertzberg has claimed that Jackson is one of the most important Black leaders in America this century, ranking him behind only Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Caught up in the thrill of seeing the first Black politician to enjoy national success, Blacks are losing perspective on just what Jackson's success means.
Instead of asking politicians what Blacks should expect from them in the next administration and asking them about their civil rights records, they have become almost hypnotized with the Jesse Jackson question: How is Jesse being treated? Is he being included? What is Jesse's role?
These are limited questions during an election race. Have Blacks really compared Gov. Michael S. Dukakis to Vice President George Bush? Remember, those are the two candidates. Or are they looking for a signal from Jesse Jackson as to whom he feels is the best candidate?
So far, sadly, it appears to be the latter. Blacks have lined themselves up behind Jackson, who is now seen as the the Black leader.
JACKSON is acknowledged by many to be the leader of Blacks. Exhibit A is not the 1988 Democratic Convention, which was dominated by Jackson, but the 1984 convention held in San Francisco.
Jackson's followers heckled Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr., and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young for not supporting Jackson.
That shameful act merely proved to foreshadow the stranglehold Jackson has on Blacks. There is not a Black politician willing to outright challenge Jackson these days. King's former aides have also fallen into line. Jackson has proven that not only can he get the Black vote, but that he can also direct it.
But there could be danger in this power. Jackson is now unchallenged. With Jackson holding all of the Black vote in his hands, he is actually paralyzing it at the same time.
Look at what has happened to the Black vote this year. It has been the subject of the Dukakis-Jackson cat-and-mouse game.
Jesse has it, Mike wants it.
When it turned out that Jackson would not be on the ticket, and that he could further his own interests by conceding, he then gave the signal to Blacks that it's okay to vote for the other guy.
ACCORDING to the polls, the signal was detected. A poll conducted shortly afer the convention revealed that 81 percent of Blacks said they will support Dukakis in November.
That same poll can be seen as discouraging to soon-to-be Republican nominee George Bush and a big victory for Dukakis and Jackson. With the Black vote in the bag, the Democratic Party has a legitimate shot at knocking off the Republicans for only the second time in the last six elections.