The ol’ double standard was alive and well last week, as former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Democrat of Illinois, pleaded guilty in a Washington federal court to stealing three-quarters of a million dollars from campaign funds.
No, the media were not defending Jackson’s seven-year crime spree, which included his wife, a onetime Chicago alderman, filing false income tax returns. Nor were they comparing Jackson favorably with other political miscreants—although the Washington Post’s resident snarkmeister, Dana Milbank, came close: “Jackson’s problem,” he explained, “was that he did what everybody else does—but he took it to a new level of excess.”
No, it was the mournful, elegiac, even respectful, tone of the coverage that impressed The Scrapbook. This was not an occasion for harsh judgment or pointed satire, but a family misfortune—a steep, poignant, relentless fall from grace—unfolding in public view. As Jackson acknowledged his monumental thievery to the court, readers were treated to vignettes of his manifest sadness (“Tell everybody back home I’m sorry I let them down”), lamentations about his once-promising career, and descriptions of the family patriarch—that would be the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., of “Hymietown” fame—sitting stoically in the courtroom, surrounded by friends and relatives, offering solace to his wayward offspring.
Most impressive of all, the usual suspects on America’s op-ed pages—Maureen Dowd, Eugene Robinson, Ruth Marcus, Charles M. Blow, et al.—were equally circumspect, refraining from comment on this particular downfall. Readers need only imagine, of course, what the atmosphere would be if the most promising member of a Republican political dynasty—say, a Bush scion, or a Romney son—had stolen $750,000, disappeared from Washington for months to seek unspecified medical treatment, and then tearfully sought absolution in court.
In that sense, The Scrapbook was uncertain whether to cry or laugh. Surely, if ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. had been a Republican, and not a Democrat, we would be reading well into springtime about the culture of venality in his family and party, about the arrogance of power and hypocrisy of the so-called Party of Lincoln, not to mention the cruel vulgarity of an inner-city politician sporting a stolen $43,350 Rolex wristwatch.
And there would be plenty of laughter as well, for Jackson spent stolen cash not only on the usual swag—the aforementioned Rolex, health club dues, a mink parka, premium cigars, flat-screen TVs and glamour vacations, meals, furniture, private-school tuition, sports memorabilia—but on slightly eccentric investments as well, including a stuffed elk head, a “holistic retreat” on Martha’s Vineyard, Bruce Lee artifacts, and a fedora once worn by the late Michael Jackson ($4,600).
Indeed, last year Gail Collins of the New York Times wrote several dozen consecutive columns in which she alluded to the story of the Romney family dog in a crate, strapped to the roof of their car, during a vacation. Imagine what she could do with that stuffed elk head, or Michael Jackson’s fedora!