Before prison: Jesse Jackson, Jr. Ain’t No Fortunate Son

I went to interview Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.) at the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill. The long, dimly lit corridors were silent, save for the click of my heels on the marble floor. In the outer office, a conspicuous absence of photo-ops with bigwigs. There was a man in shirtsleeves, picking wrappers and trash from the floor. When he turned around, I realized that this was Jesse Jackson, Jr. Jackson is, of course, the son of Rev. Jesse Jackson, with whom he co-authored the new money book, It’s About the Money!, which also features a great over-the-top subhead: “The Fourth Movement of the Freedom Symphony: How to Build Wealth, Get Access to Capital, and Achieve Your Financial Dreams.”

A typical working day for Rep. Jackson begins with a strenuous workout from 6:00 to 8:30 a.m., though on this day, he’s needed in the office by 6:30. He sits on the House Appropriations Committee, and serves on several subcommittees, including Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. He typically attends two hearings a day. “I have another hearing today from 2 to 4,” he says, almost to himself, stifling a yawn.

Rep. Jackson and his wife, Sandi, are expecting a daughter in March. He notes, “I will have to set aside time.” As for his spiritual commitments, he attends Salem Baptist in Chicago — online. “They hold all of their services online. I don’t know whether you can tithe to them through their site yet. You can do it through my Web site. But, if I know the pastor, I’m sure he’s working on it!” he laughs heartily.

Rep. Jackson claims that the biggest source of poverty in the U.S. exists on “a macroeconomic level.” He’s quick to launch into a stump speech, but his belief in his words is evident.

“Problems can be eliminated when we commit to a full employment policy. People doing socially useful work, earning a salary commensurate with their skills. There are 45 million people in this country without healthcare. The VERY DAY that we enact a healthcare bill, this will eliminate poverty! Also, we have an absence of an Equal Rights Amendment, so women earn 70 cents to every $1 for men. More women head households in the U.S. than married couples.” He acknowledges that his book addresses microeconomic problems, “and it presupposes that you are working.”

He says that the drug trade will cease to be a part of the urban economy, “when we have a legitimate economy.”

“My parents didn’t want us to think that all work is compensated. I think parents bring children into the world to wash dishes and take out the garbage.”

Rep. Jackson seems unconcerned about the perks of Congress. When asked about getting on political junkets, he thinks for a minute and says, “I don’t really try to go on them. I look forward to my two weeks off. Most times, I say no — I get so tired. Basically, the chairman of a powerful committee, i.e., the Judicial Committee or Ways or Means, does those. Based on the availability of Air Force planes, chairmen can summon a plane. Co-Dels (Committee Delegates) have to get a minimum number of members of Congress on the plane. This is how I really get to know the Members — you get to know someone after four or five hours on a plane better than standing across the aisle from them. I don’t go on private tours, never have. That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t. But I prefer going with groups of Members.”

Jackson claims that his parents were rather generous growing up. “I did not always have an allowance, though. We got rewards for work. But they didn’t want us to think that all work is compensated. I think parents bring children into the world to wash dishes and take out the garbage,” he giggles.

Asked what he might splurge on, he points out, “All of our lives are splurges, buying what we don’t need. But this undermines wealth. I’ve tried to maintain discipline in spending since college. My family did not discuss wealth, but I encourage open discussion about money. It supports family goals. When I have children, I want them to understand that there is a choice between the $165 Michael Jordan shoes now, or investing and having that money down the road for a car or for college. They can have $65 shoes now and invest the rest.”

Jackson feels that he is “not as good as I need to be,” at fundraising. “I do own all of the equipment for fundraising. I am raising money online. I was one of the first — this is the wave of the future.”

Rep. Jackson contributes money himself to Chicago Theological Seminary, where he got his Master’s, and to the Sandra and Jesse Jackson Foundation, in honor of his deceased son. “My wife is more active in charities,” he notes.

Jackson says that he didn’t always know that he would be a success. “I define success differently. The symbol of my success is being a Member of Congress. Whatever that means. The substance is opportunity meets preparation.”

Rep. Jackson has a website and his book, It’s About the Money! is available

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