I was in the old country this weekend because my parents were being honored at a big temple fundraising event, and the keynote speaker was Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. So I got to have dinner with him (being at the table with all the important people). I suppose this is the first time I've met a member of Congress; Mel Reynolds was in my parents' living room during the 1992 campaign (oops!), but that doesn't count since he wasn't in Congress yet.
We were worried that Rep. Jackson wasn't going to show up. He had accepted an invitation a year ago to speak at a graduation in North Carolina which was supposed to be in the morning, and turned out to be at 3 PM. Concerned that he wouldn't get back to Chicago in time, he videotaped his speech so that it could be shown if he didn't make it, but he made it onto the 5:10 flight and to the dinner! He received a hero's welcome when he arrived. From the way everyone talked to him, it was clear how close he is to his constituents; I certainly don't have that kind of relationship with my congressman.
Rep. Jackson spoke about his trip to Israel in 2003 with an entourage of leaders from the local Jewish community (including my mother), and about the importance of Israel and of achieving peace in the region. He also talked about the economic situation in the south side and south suburbs (60 people for every job in the south side/suburbs, vs. 3 jobs for every person in the northwest suburbs!) and his support for the proposed Abraham Lincoln National Airport in Peotone, which would bring economic development to the south suburbs. He said the airport would bring lower property values-- then quickly corrected himself to higher property values.
We got to talk to him afterwards and discovered that he lives just a few blocks from my sister in DC. She offered her babysitting services, and they swapped digits!
I said that I looked forward to 2006, when he would be back in the majority; my optimism was not shared.
My mother and I both mentioned the religious left and how we had had it with Bill Frist claiming to speak for "people of faith". Rep. Jackson said that this goes back to before the Civil War: white Christians in the South came up with theological justifications for slavery, which was obviously a serious sin, and in the process came up with a form of religion that was individualistic and [i forget the rest]. So this is a tradition that goes back over 150 years, and today's Republican strategists like Ralph Reed just have to tap into what is already there, and use this individualistic form of Christianity to justify any Republican policy. [I'm probably not getting this 100% correct.] Rep. Jackson said that the Democrats are failing to connect with voters because Democrats focus on the policy while Republicans focus on the individual ("this woman is going to die without her feeding tube!"). I would note that these Republican appeals are invariably cynical and manipulative, but damned if they aren't successful.
Rumor has it that Rep. Jackson is pursuing the mayor's seat (fortunately, he left before they ran the slideshow with the picture of my mother and Mayor Daley); if so, this will be Chicago's gain and the rest of the country's loss.