'The Enemy Within' | The Nation


'The Enemy Within'

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There is a deep streak of class resentment running through this book. Jackson is disparaged in the classic language of resentment toward the bourgeoisie or the nouveau riche: He is demeaned for his grammar, for his manners, for his conspicuous consumption. I think this class bias accounts for Timmerman's irrational anger whenever Jackson moves beyond what Timmerman deems his place in the social order. Jackson is painted as too ignorant and lower class to play with the big boys; yet too flashy and profligate to make political claims on behalf of the poor. When Newsweek praises his children as "poised, proud and living antidotes to inner-city despair," Timmerman snorts that "Jesse Jackson with his three houses, his flush bank accounts, his first-class travel, his lucrative friendships with foreign dictators...was as close to inner city despair as the Beverly Hillbillies were to poverty."

About the Author

Patricia J. Williams
Patricia J. Williams
Patricia J. Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University, was born in Boston in 1951 and holds a BA from...

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Similarly, any use of economic leverage, including boycotts, is seen as nothing more than "bullying," the surest sign of someone who'd rather be staging a riot. Jackson's attempts to convince businesses to "provide jobs and award contracts" to minorities is redescribed as making them "pony up." Peaceful boycotts become racial extortion--as though African-Americans have an obligation to shop till they drop, as though free enterprise did not include the choice of taking one's business elsewhere. It is an oddly unbalanced insistence, particularly since Timmerman seems to feel that free enterprise includes the right of businesses not to hire or serve any of those supposedly extortionist brown bodies.

When Jackson joins the board of General Motors, he's not working within the system, heaven forbid, he's just "working" it. Indeed, General Motors itself is indicted for putting him on its board, for being in craven complicity with his "plundering." "For the scare-muffins who still dominate many Fortune 500 companies, it has become cheaper to toss bones to Jesse than to contest him in the court of public opinion," writes Timmerman, and quotes T.J. Rogers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, who refused to "pony up" to Jackson's concerns about hiring patterns: "My advice to other CEO's? Why don't you grow a pair of balls? Or if you're a female, whatever is the female equivalent."

Shakedown is flawed even more by racialized animus than by class bias, however. "Uncle Jessie," as Timmerman calls him on several occasions, wants "not just equal opportunity, but equal results." Shakedown purports to be filled with proof that Jackson and his "cohorts" have "more than." They are described not merely as lying, cheating and stealing but as possessing much more than they deserve, however they came by it. Every last car any member of the Jackson family ever owned--his son's wife's BMW, for heaven's sake--is listed and ridiculed, every last exotic make, size of engine, price paid, with a rundown of features including vanity plates and whether the tires were radial or whitewall.

There is nowhere offered in this book a chance that Jackson has a humanitarian bone in his body, no chance that he adheres to principles or beliefs. Jackson is not even a real minister, according to Shakedown, but a "seminary drop-out" whose "church" (always in quotes) is nothing more than a front for his "poverty pimping."

Anything Jackson is associated with becomes just too stupid or too dangerous to respond to or take seriously. And so Jackson is described as drawing up a "hit list" of corporations. In a passage astonishing for its old-style Confederate paranoia, Timmerman worries that Jackson's "inflammatory words" protesting the outcome of the 2000 election "were dangerously close to a call for insurrection." Even Al Gore is depicted as plotting with Jackson in hopes of "unleashing a massive outpouring of 'rage' in black communities across America." (Rage, too, is always in quotes.)

Whether one likes Jackson or not, reading Shakedown one gets the sense that Timmerman dislikes him for much more than his bad traits--and that's where the popularity of this book becomes truly troubling. Timmerman can't stand anyone who's ever shaken Jackson's hand. He despises the civil rights "establishment." He hates Bill Clinton, the Chicago Theological Seminary, African and African-American leaders of every political stripe, hippies, bleeding hearts and the NAACP. Just for extra wallop, every chapter or so he lumps them all together with Lenin, Castro, Hitler, Stalin, socialist "plants," radical "functionaries," card-carrying members of the Communist party as well as motley others "who are, unquestionably, enemies of the United States."

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