In defending themselves against an attack by the Rev. Jesse Jackson (and his member of Congress namesake son), the Secret Service took what people with a sense of history that goes farther back than 10 minutes would consider to be an ironic view.
Jackson is pushing to get copies of e-mails sent between Secret Service agents, contending they contain twisted jokes at his expense.
HOW DO THE feds explain this? They point out that they offered Jackson protection during his two bids in the 1980s for U.S. president.
“We are proud to have provided protection for Rev. Jackson during two presidential campaigns and will work with Congressman Jackson’s office to make sure we address all of their questions and concerns,” the Secret Service said, in a prepared statement.
How many of us remember that this is not the civil rights leader’s first run-in with the Secret Service, which managed to offend him with the way it provided that security for his presidential campaigns.
Or does the Secret Service think we’ve managed to forget the significance of “Pontiac.”
FOR THOSE TOO young (pretty much anyone under 21) to remember, Jackson (the elder, not the South Side congressman) became upset when he learned that in internal communications between Secret Service agents, he was referred to by the code name “Pontiac.”
Secret Service officials at the time claimed the code name for Jackson was randomly chosen, but Jackson suspected that some “law and order” type within the Secret Service management had a twisted sense of humor in applying the name to him.
It turns out there is a half-wit old joke (the kind that our grandfathers’ generation would have chuckled over while guzzling beers in the bar), the punch line of which implies that black people are too ignorant to realize that a Pontiac-brand automobile is NOT a luxury car like a Cadillac.
Of course, Jackson’s complaint back then created the outcry from people who want to believe they are defending the right of free expression (but are really just showing their ignorance) who said he was taking the matter too seriously.
IT EVENTUALLY FADED out of the news cycle, and is now one of many incidents that can be rehashed when recounting the life of Jesse Jackson, although the people who downplayed the “Pontiac” crack are the ones who most want to remember that the same Jackson once was quoted by the Washington Post as referring to New York City as “Hymie-town” on account of its significant Jewish population.
So how you view those incidents (and which ought to be given priority) says a lot about how you will think of the latest incident.
The SouthtownStar newspaper in the Chicago suburbs reported that Jackson (with the influence of his son’s position in Congress) is filing a Freedom of Information request to force the Secret Service to turn over the e-mails.
Those messages reportedly contained a joke, the punch line of which was that an airplane crash involving Jackson and his wife would be, “neither a great loss nor an accident.”
THE SUBURBAN CHICAGO newspaper also reported that the e-mails also contained racially offensive material not specifically mentioning Jackson and also some explicit pictures of inter-racial couples.
There is a bigger picture here – 10 Secret Service agents who are black are filing a lawsuit against the federal government, contending that the management of the agency that protects the president and other prominent officials in this country runs the agency in a racially ignorant manner.
The African-American agents actually got ahold of the e-mails that were passed around among their white colleagues, and submitted them as part of their lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
For their part, Secret Service officials are not denying the existence of such e-mails. They contend the messages were sent from someone outside the agency to individuals of the Secret Service, and should not be considered representative of the agency’s official stance on any issue.
YET THE FACT that “cop humor” (which bears a serious resemblance at times to “gallows humor”) could find anything humorous in gags about airplane crashes is discouraging.
It is particularly despicable coming from the agency that was supposed to be prepared to give up its own agents’ lives to protect Jackson when he ran for president. “The Secret Service is charged with investigating threats, not initiating them,” Jackson Jr. said, in a prepared statement.
It also is the absolute wrong image for the Secret Service to be hit with at a time when a bi-racial man (which to the bigots means “black”) is on the verge of getting the Democratic presidential nomination.
THERE ALREADY HAVE been some racial tensions and concerns that Barack Obama could be a larger-than-usual political target on the campaign trail, although Obama himself has tried to downplay such talk and says there have been no explicit threats.
But we already have some people engaging in conspiracy theories galore about how Democrats could plot to take away the presidential nomination from Obama – even though he is likely to finish the primary season with more votes and delegates than opponent Hillary R. Clinton.
Just imagine the conspiracy talk that would occur should people get the perception that the Secret Service would somehow not do their jobs and would not protect a President Obama (or even a Candidate Obama).
REGARDLESS OF WHAT one thinks of the legitimacy of such talk, the fact is that conspiracy theories do not need hard fact to be taken seriously by some people. This is one theory that could easily fly out of control – unless federal officials were to go out of their way to squash it now.
And if that means some agent gets disciplined for passing along to a colleague one of the many stupid content e-mails he receives during a typical day instead of using his sense and automatically deleting it, then so be it.
This is a case where we have to take the Jacksons seriously because it is the right thing to do, and not just because Jesse Jr. has a position in the federal government that makes him possible to ignore.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Rev. Jesse Jackson is back in the news with his grievances against (http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/Top_News/2008/05/14/jacksons_seek_secret_service_e-mails/2547/) the Secret Service.
African-American Secret Service agents used the e-mails derogatory to Jackson as evidence in their own lawsuit (http://tinyurl.com/6dawbw/) against their employer.
The presidential campaign of Barack Obama (which has the support of Jackson Jr.) is not going to be the “race free” campaign (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/12/AR2008051203014_pf.html) some people naively hoped for. It (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/may/14/barackobama.uselections2008) could get ugly, which makes this latest incident involving the Secret Service all the more regrettable.
Somebody has put a lot of time into cataloguing racial and ethnic slurs, including the double meaning (http://www.johncglass.com/racialslurs.htm) of the word “Pontiac.”