09.21.10

Jesse Jackson Warns Obama

The woman who told the president she was “exhausted” of trying to defend him is like a canary in the mine who must be heard, the reverend says. He tells Shushannah Walshe how Obama can inspire her.

The woman who told the president she was “exhausted” of trying to defend him is like a canary in the mine who must be heard, the reverend says. He tells The Daily Beast's Shushannah Walshe that Obama's advisers' "point of view is conditioned by their privileges and their point of view is conditioned by their experiences. Their point of view is from the top down. They see the world differently."

Velma Hart’s impassioned plea to President Obama on Monday was a wakeup call not to take his most loyal supporters for granted. The president desperately needs his base to go to the polls in November, but Hart’s exasperation revealed a clear disconnect with that core group of supporters. Tuesday’s news that National Economic Council director Lawrence Summers is departing the administration may be a sign that Obama is realizing that his base is slipping away and he must take steps to reclaim it.

In an interview with The Daily Beast at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, Obama ally Rev. Jesse Jackson said he understands Hart’s struggles and offered some advice to Obama on how to solve some of the country’s problems. He even stressed that America needs a second stimulus, despite the potential political unpopularity.

Jackson said he hopes whoever replaces Summers in the administration comes “from a different school of thought.”

“I think we need some bottom-up visionaries,” he said. “I think those who look from the bottom up and those who look from the top down are reconcilable, but I think the bottom-up visionaries are enormously beneficiary to the country.”

“He genuinely cares,” Jackson said. “But truth, like electricity, requires a conduit. He needs more conduits to the zones of pain.”

Asked if Summers represents a disconnect with the president’s base, Jackson replied, “The core of them—Summers, Geithner—these guys come out of the Wall Street, Harvard community, and their point of view is conditioned by their privileges and their point of view is conditioned by their experiences. Their point of view is from the top down. They see the world differently.”

Jackson was careful to compliment the president and praise his “tremendous work,” but he explained that his supporters are not feeling the results of that work. He described them as the “canaries in the mine” and said the president must listen to them.

“He genuinely cares,” Jackson said. “But truth, like electricity, requires a conduit. He needs more conduits to the zones of pain. He was trying to hear those people [like Velma Hart] at the town hall. But he’s not hearing it in the staff meeting. What he hears in the staff meeting and what he heard in the town hall are two different things.”

What the president needs, Jackson said, is to inspire his base.

“In each of these cities, public teachers are being laid off, public housing is reduced, and foreclosures are rising. That’s the base of people who had the most hope, and the conduit is not connecting enough to revive their spirit to fight back.”

Jackson’s prescription includes a targeted war on poverty to directly address out-of-work Americans and what the reverend calls the new face of poverty: men and women who had a house and job six months ago. His plan includes a moratorium on home foreclosures for returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq; and student loan forgiveness so college students graduating without jobs won’t fall into poverty.

He also has a plan to revitalize Detroit using the same urban reconstruction plan for Iraq that he’s hoping will bring the dying city back.

“In Detroit 90,000 homes [were] vacated, and lots abandoned,” Jackson said. “If there were some kind of urban homesteading program for people who once lived there, they can retrieve their house and do apprentice training: learning to be landscapers and brick masons and painters, and you have to buy a product to do that reconstruction. People could feel that…There is a clear plan for reconstruction in Baghdad, but not in Detroit.”

And Jackson said the country needs a second stimulus, despite the unpopularity of the first, which “spent tons of money on relatively few and left a vast number of people not only out, but sinking.”

He said a second stimulus would help Americans who are facing home foreclosure, put people back to work, and cut poverty. Jackson declined to say he was disappointed in Obama, but stressed that the people struggling in this economy need “resources to flow unfettered.”

And that will help politically.

“It is the masses of people who voted in unusual patterns in 2008 that made the difference. Those people are being represented by Ms. Hart, and I am for one working to convince her and others that the stakes are incredibly high,” Jackson said. “If those who voted in 2007—if their roots are watered, flowers will blossom. They were the key in 2008; they are the key in 2010.”

Asked if he had told the president about his formula to get the country back on its feet and revive the base, Jackson said he had spoken to “some of his people” but believes that if Obama took his advice, things would be better.

“It was like Shirley Sherrod said: I’m not interested in coming to the White House. I want you to come to south Georgia to see what is really happening on the ground, because he is a fast learner and a very passionate guy. So I think if the conduits are in place for the connectivity, you’ll see results, but right now we are watering the leaves.”

Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.