Ah, Iowa. I arrive in Des Moines late this evening, pull into the Best Western that I selected partly because Newt Gingrich is supposed to be at an event in the motel in the morning, and who do I see lounging in the lobby but Jesse Jackson. Gingrich, Jackson -- who's next, Gary Hart?
The Reverend, it turns out, is in town to speak to the local Occupy group that has been making its presence felt at campaign offices and events. Wearing a pinstripe suit over a magenta turtleneck, he was huddling next to the fireplace and inflatable Santa with several members of his Rainbow Coalition; Tim Carpenter, the National Director of the Progressive Democrats of America; and John Nichols of The Nation. They were talking caucus, marveling at this year's Republican crew. As they broke up for the night, I engaged Jackson in conversation. Some choice bits:
He's down on much that's happened in Barack Obama's first term, such as the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, but heartened by the more forceful tone Obama's adopted more recently. "It's his campaign. It's what led him to victory. When he speaks about making room for the veterans coming home, it's the moral center. When he speaks about loosening the student loan burden, it's the moral center."
He minces no words about what he thinks been driving the resistance to Obama in Washington. "Barack has been facing a rebellion that never forgave him for his victory. This is Fort Sumter Tea Party, not the Boston Tea Party...It's not so well-concealed what's driving this. They're appealing to the 'white and right' in this country...The civil rights fight has become the fight for the 10th Amendment....They're all lined up on states' rights versus a more perfect union."
He is confident about Obama's chances next year, saying that key groups like black voters and young voters will turn out again in large numbers, despite the demoralized mood in the country, because they will be worried about the Republican alternative. The Republicans "are great. They're one of his assets. They're so wedded to the 10th Amendment, state's rights, it's a real step backwards...That team is inciting and frightening." (And yes, those words came out as a perfect rhyme.)
He thinks Romney is the most formidable opponent but that he is becoming less so every day. "He would be the biggest challenge, but the concessions he's made to be their leader have been back-bending."
He does not think much of the caucuses. "You've got $12 million in ads being pushed at 150,000 people at most. It's a very unrepresentative slice of America, sold as the mainstream. You've got all these guys trying to fit through the keyhole rather than go through the door. There's not a single ad on poverty, on more Americans being on food stamps than ever...The issues that really matter to most people are not on the agenda."
Well, maybe Jackson can talk more that last issue at the motel Friday morning with Gingrich, who's been going around calling Obama the "food stamp president." What a flashback moment that would be. And to think some people wonder why reporters like the Iowa caucuses...