Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned from Congress with a poignant note of acceptance after a personal journey that took a heartbreaking turn.
“For seventeen years I have given 100 percent of my time, energy, and life to public service,” Jackson wrote in a letter delivered on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday. “However, over the past several months, as my health has deteriorated, my ability to serve the constituents of my district has continued to diminish. Against the recommendations of my doctors, I had hoped and tried to return to Washington and continue working on the issues that matter most of the people of the Second District. I know now that will not be possible.”
Jackson pulled few punches. The congressman, who has been receiving inpatient treatment for bipolar disorder, acknowledged not just the health challenges he has faced but a deeply embarrassing federal investigation into the misdirection of campaign funds. “I am aware of the ongoing federal investigation into my activities and I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with the investigators, and accept responsibility for my mistakes,” he wrote, “for they are my mistakes and mine alone.”
In an era when so many political figures refuse to take any responsibility for their actions, it is notable that Jackson chose to exit with an acknowledgement of his own fallibility.
Yes, mistakes were made and there is no point in trying to diminish them. It is appropriate to recognize that Jackson’s reputation has been tarnished, and that he faces a long struggle to resolve the personal and legal troubles that have derailed his congressional career. But as someone who covered Jackson throughout his seventeen years in the House, I also recognize that focusing merely on the missteps that have ended his career obscures the full story of this man and his service.
Through the vast majority of his time in Washington, Jesse Jackson Jr. was an accomplished and valuable member of the House—a progressive representative, yes, but more than that. He was an all-too-rare congressional champion who went beyond the call of duty in struggles for peace and economic and social justice.
From the moment the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson was elected to the House in a 1995 special election, he began compiling one of the most independent and reform-oriented records in the chamber. Jackson clashed not just with the economic royalists on the right but with Democrats who chose to compromise with the forces of reaction, militarism and austerity. This consistency cost him politically; it was tougher for him to raise money and to attain the powerful positions that are apportioned to those who compromise with the unconscionable.