As an independent progressive leader in Congress, Jackson — the oldest son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson — has had the frustration of fighting on the right side of losing policy battles. He challenged the Southern political strategy and trickle-down economics of the right. But he also questioned conservative and Wall Street Democrats who sought to tack with the prevailing reactionary winds. This commitment helped increase his national exposure even as it made it harder for him to rise in a city where conscience is often viewed as an occupational liability.
Jackson voted against President George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. He also protested the constitutionality of a president waging war without a formal declaration from Congress and joined a court action against the constitutionality of the invasion. After the scope of the debacle and the lawlessness in the war on terror became clear, he pushed hard for a congressional inquest that would establish accountability to the Constitution and the law.
Jackson challenged the ruinous corporate trade policies, pushed by presidents of both parties, that have proved devastating to working families. He constantly questioned the priorities of a country intent on policing the world while failing to invest in vital needs at home.
After the conservative Gang of Five on the Supreme Court shamefully stopped the vote count in Florida in Bush v. Gore, Jackson led not simply the condemnation of the indefensible decision but also the demand for reform of our deeply flowed electoral process. He proposed a constitutional amendment to establish a national right to vote and a comprehensive reform agenda to ensure that everyone could exercise that right confident that their vote would be counted.
In 2001, Jackson co-authored with longtime aide Frank Watkins, a remarkably original study of U.S. politics titled “A More Perfect Union.” There he urged progressives to take up their own “constitutional politics.” The right, he observed, promoted dozens of constitutional amendments, from prayer in the school to balancing the budget to the repeal of a woman’s right to choose. This enabled them to argue not policy — how to achieve a goal — but principle, why that goal or value was essential.