Published on Tuesday, August 15, 2000 in the New York Times
Like His Father, Jesse Jackson Jr. Raises Voice for the Left
by Kevin Sack
LOS ANGELES - At Democratic conventions past, the Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote a compelling piece of the story line. The 1988 convention in Atlanta, for instance, was consumed with the question of how warmly Mr. Jackson would embrace Michael S. Dukakis, who had defeated him in the primaries.

At this year's convention, however, Mr. Jackson's son Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr. is the one making waves by giving voice to the concerns within the party's left wing about its centrist ticket.

Jesse Jr & Sr
Rev. Jesse Jackson, points out at the seats with his son Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., as they look over the Staples Center Monday, Aug. 14, 2000, in Los Angeles, on the first day of The Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Charlie Krupa)
It began on Saturday, at a forum at the University of Southern California, when Mr. Jackson, a third-term Democrat from Chicago, was asked whether people should vote for Vice President Al Gore and his running mate, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman.

"The only option is Al Gore," he responded. "But if there was another campaign that was speaking to our issues that had the possibility and plausibility of winning, we should support that campaign."

Today, at another forum, this one part of a shadow convention organized by a coalition of left-leaning groups, Mr. Jackson made it clear that he would aggressively campaign for the Gore-Lieberman ticket. But he continued to cast his decision as one driven more by his fear of the alternative: electing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

At a news conference after the speech, Mr. Jackson said: "I am supporting Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman, and I'm doing it as enthusiastically as I can. But Jackie Wilson is not on the ticket, and Elvis Presley is not on the ticket, so Mr. Excitement is not running for president. This is about pragmatism."

Indeed, there has been low-level tension among Democrats, tension that has surfaced anew since Mr. Gore's selection of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman as his running mate -- that pits centrists against Democratic liberals. While a moderate message is seen as necessary to win undecided independent voters, the party's left wing argues that a more traditional agenda is needed to excite minorities and other voters from the Demcrats' base.

Some liberals have complained about Mr. Lieberman's support for federal vouchers to pay for private school tuition and about his statements in opposition to affirmative action.

On Tuesday, Mr. Lieberman is expected to address some of those concerns at a meeting of black delegates here, and several Gore campaign officials have been acting as ambassadors to concerned black Democrats, assuring them that Mr. Lieberman's record is acceptable.

Such concerns are something the Gore campaign could do without as it tries to generate enthusiasm for its candidate, and seeks to motivate a traditional base that include minorities, women and union members.

Mr. Jackson said he would try to persuade disillusioned liberal Democrats against defecting to Ralph Nader and the Green Party. And he criticized the Gore campaign's recent emphasis on restoring the country's sense of morality, something Mr. Lieberman has emphasized throughout his career.

"When we start getting into this personal-life litmus test we are deep in Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson territory," the younger Mr. Jackson said, "and that is unfamiliar Democratic real estate."

Mr. Jackson's father has not stayed silent, and today made essentially the same point.

"If it means we have to hold our noses and take castor oil, do it," the elder Mr. Jackson urged a group of voters today.

The elder Mr. Jackson is scheduled to speak at the convention on Tuesday night. Though he has had starring roles at past conventions, he said he was not bothered by the fact that he was slated to appear this year before network television coverage begins.

"Whenever I speak," he said, "it's prime time."

Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company