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Book Reviews

Reviewing Jackson's 1984 campaign: Insight or bias?


Lucius J. Barker and Ronald W. Walters, eds. Jesse Jackson's 1984 Presidential Campaign: Challenge and Change in American Politics. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989. Pp. 257 with notes and index. $37.50 (cloth); $14,95 (paper).

This is an academic book in which a variety of authors try to plot social and political trends surrounding Jesse Jackson's first run for the White House. But the book does not strictly follow good academic form in a crucial area: revealing possible biases of some of the authors.

Political scientists Lucius J. Barker of Washington University in St. Louis and Ronald W. Walters of Howard University in Washington, D.C., say in their preface that they want the articles to help "capture the essential nature and meaning of the Jackson campaign and to assess its broader impact and implications," including the seldom-studied role of minorities in presidential politics. But what they don't tell the reader directly is that both of them were directly involved in the Jackson campaign in 1984, Barker as a delegate and Walters as a policy adviser. That information came from Barker in a telephone interview, in which he said that at least seven of the book's 14 authors were participants in the campaign.

In all, the book consists of 11 chapters, each by a different writer or pair of writers. Of the 14 authors, including Barker and Walters, only 12 are listed in the "Notes on Contributors" section. The "Notes" themselves clearly state only three authors' links to the campaign, and Barker's involvement is hinted at because among his credits is authorship of a book called Our Time Has Come: A Delegate's Diary of Jesse Jackson's 1984 Presidential Campaign (University of Illinois Press, 1988).

Michael Preston, author of a chapter called "The 1984 Presidential Primary Campaign: Who Voted for Jesse Jackson and Why?" which uses data from various polls, is not listed in the "Notes," though Barker said Preston was not involved in the campaign. Also unlisted is Armando Gutierrez, author of the chapter "Hispanics and the Jackson Presidential Campaign," but he handles his own disclosure early and correctly in his article. He explains that he was a Jackson staffer. His later conclusion that Jackson's trip to Panama was an "inspired choice'' is tempered by his clear up-front statement that he initiated the idea of the Latin American trips Jackson took during the campaign.

Curtina Moreland-Young, director of the Master of Public Policy and Administration Program at Jackson State University, also "does right.'' On the first page of her article, "A View from the Bottom: A Descriptive Analysis of the Jackson Platform Efforts," she says she was a Mississippi representative on the platform committee at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. "I am aware of the inherent problem of academic objectivity which may result when a participant observer becomes a full member of the group; however, I hope the unique circumstances of my involvement and professional training will somewhat ameliorate this concern," she writes.

Robert G. Newby, who wrote a chapter called "The 'Naive' and the 'Unwashed': The Challenge of the Jackson Campaign at the Democratic Party National Convention," is identified in "Notes on Contributors" as a delegate for Jackson from Michigan. Virtually the whole article is spent showing that the booing of Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young at the convention, as Young spoke against Jackson-supported platform planks, and similar treatment given Coretta Scott King, as she later chastised Jackson delegates for their treatment of Young, could not be attributed as some suggested to Jackson delegates being "naive and inexperienced or simply uncouth." What seems obvious is that, Newby, associate professor of sociology at Central Michigan University, was miffed at the characterization.

The editors' preface states that some authors were "participant observers" in the campaign, adding that "only time and history will tell the extent to which such contributors succumbed to the pitfalls or profited from the benefits of participant observation as a mode of research.'' Given this admission, the status of each author should have been clearly stated.

Now an admission of this reviewer: I am a newspaper reporter with little patience for academic writing, and Challenge and Change, all in all, is a tough book to get through even though Jackson's 1984 quest is inherently interesting to political junkies. To his credit, Barker agrees that Challenge and Change is written to reach more of a scholarly than general audience. He said his Delegate's Diary is more readable.

Despite its problems, Challenge and Change makes useful, if sometimes obvious, points about what brought on the Jackson candidacy. As Barker and others point out, in 1983 blacks lagged behind whites in family income. Republican incumbent Reagan was seen as turning back the civil rights clock and some blacks were tired of waiting for their due from the Democratic party they had supported as a bloc for so long. Barker and Walters also track events leading to greater black involvement in politics, including snubs Harold Washington received from white, nationally prominent Democrats who endorsed his white primary opponents before he was elected as Chicago's first black mayor in 1983.

Linda Williams, a researcher at the Joint Center for Political Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that analyzes black political trends, and Lorenzo Morris of Howard University examine the multiracial nature of Jackson's support. They report that of the 3.4 million primary votes Jackson collected, 22 percent were from whites. The figures back Jackson's claim of support from a "Rainbow Coalition," according to the authors. They also conclude that despite Jackson's 1984 loss, the seeds for a progressive third party may have been sown.

Students working on a term paper about Jackson's first run for the presidency can get some good numbers and opinions about the "Run, Jesse, Run" period of American history from Challenge and Change, but they must be prepared to muddle through some difficult language and consider the sources.

Bernard Schoenburg is a former member of the Statehouse press corps in Springfield and is now working as a reporter and editor in Chicago.

March 1990/Illinois Issues/27

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