Inside the U.N. and C.G.I.

09.24.13

Jackson: Saxophone-Playing Wouldn’t Help Obama

At the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday, Jesse Jackson said Bill Clinton had more leeway to appeal to black voters in the 1990s than President Obama, who would have been accused of pandering for similar behaviors.

Jesse Jackson pulled out an iconic moment from 1990s pop culture to explain the difference between the political world that Barack Obama faces and the one that his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, faced

“Bill Clinton gets on Arsenio and plays the saxophone, and everyone says he is reaching out,” the civil rights leader said. “If Obama were to get on Arsenio and play the saxophone, he would be dismissed.”

Clinton’s appearance blowing the sax complete with dark sunglasses on the late-night talk show in the heat of his first presidential campaign against George H.W. Bush was designed so that the then-Arkansas governor would show a young, hip, urban audience that if he was not one of them, he could at least relate to them. The appearance and the subsequent photo of Arsenio Hall, then the most culturally relevant late-night talk-show host, nodding approvingly at the young Arkansas governor were credited with helping boost Clinton’s rise. Obama, Jackson suggested, by dint of his race and the nature of the criticism he faces from the right, would be accused of pandering if he attempted something similar.

Jackson had his own criticism for the president, especially around his economic policy. “He believes that a rising tide lifts all boats. Well, the Wall Street boats have risen, but they are not linked to Appalachia, they are not linked to inner-city USA, because there was no obligation to invest in them based on their bailout, and that seems to be the missing piece.”

Jackson and Obama’s relationship has been fraught at times. In the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign, he was overheard on a microphone saying he want to “snip his nuts off” for what he perceived as Obama’s talking down to African-American voters.

“We have a good president who is open-minded, but I think the pressure needs to come from the bottom up,” he said.