A year ago, Jesse Jackson was cooking up a "week of moral outrage" in Florida, objecting to an "illegitimate president." Suddenly he was forced to confirm reports that he had carried on an affair with one of his staffers for years, and that her illegitimate toddler was his conceived while Jackson was "counseling" fellow philanderer Bill Clinton.
The nation heaved a sigh of relief as the moral fraudmeister went off the screen to "revive his spirit." Most of us waved Jesse good-bye, and good riddance.
No such luck. Jackson is back, and the old-time huckster hasn't changed his spots. Self-inspired by his own spiritual "revival," Jackson longed to return to his post as national moralizer. He found his ticket when the University of Notre Dame started looking for a new football coach.
A little history: Notre Dame had a lousy season, and fired its coach, Bob Davie, in early December. No big deal – but suddenly, Jackson appeared before his media mouthpieces – who, as usual, treated him like he just walked off Mount Sinai, and not out of the Rancho Gomorrah demanding that Notre Dame hire a black – any black – as the new coach.
Another historical footnote: fourteen years ago next week, Jackson led 500 Stanford University students around campus demanding, "Hey hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go." The foundation of western civilization, of course, is Christianity, specifically, the Catholic Church. Notre Dame is the most prominent Catholic university in the country. So Jackson's attack on Notre Dame is not at all an accident. It is the Catholic Church – and virtually no other that still teaches that extramarital affairs are mortal sins. And, bearing in mind that Jackson often uses the title "reverend," it was the Catholic theologian, John Henry Cardinal Newman, who said, "Being a great theologian does not make you more holy. It only makes you more guilty when you sin."
So the fact that Jackson picked a Catholic institution to attack is not out of character (if one can use that term at all in reference to Jackson). It should go without saying that Notre Dame needs no hectoring on the subject of civil rights. Longtime President (now emeritus) Father Ted Hesburgh served several terms on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and championed civil rights and other liberal causes for more than fifty years. His impeccable Catholic character is firmly imprinted on the university.
Given the moral mismatch (to put it mildly), Notre Dame could easily have told Jackson to take a hike, preferably starting with a prolonged visit to the confessionals in Sacred Heart Church on his way out of town. Instead, a nitwit named Nanni (ND's professional PR flak, to no one's surprise) compounded the problem when he agreed with Jackson (according to the AP) about the "deplorable" percentage of head football coaches who are black. (A classmate of mine observes that Nanni did not find deplorable the relatively small percentage of white athletes who go on to play in the NFL).
ND's Athletic Director, Kevin White, stumbled right into Jackson's trap. White began the search for a new coach immediately after firing Davie. Sensing pressure to produce, he hastily delivered a winner, Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary, an Irish fireball of motivation right out of central casting. Though the deal required over a million dollars up front, White goofed – he never bothered to spend twenty minutes checking references and, bingo! O'Leary had lied on his resume, inflating his credentials from two schools, and Notre Dame had to fire him (White: he "offered to resign") when a small New England newspaper broke the story.
All this is an instructive instance of the corporate capitulation mentality that has driven one business after another to buckle under Jackson's intimidation tactics. Universities share a common weakness with corporations nowadays: athletic directors and PR spokesmen are now "professionals," not real people who have deep roots in the institutions they serve (a pattern predicted sixty years ago by James Burnham in his classic, "The Managerial Revolution"). Notre Dame once had great AD's like Moose Krause and Dick Rosenthal, drawn from the extensive ranks of its brilliant athlete-graduates, whose first loyalties were always to Notre Dame. They never would do anything to embarrass the university.
Mr. White, a "professional," was obviously in over his head. After O'Leary left town, White might have resigned in favor of a successor who did not share the impediment of having presided over a major disaster, but he insisted on staying on, and renewed his search – frantically.
Enter (again) Mr. Jackson. The blood was in the water, and he went for the kill. After all, Notre Dame had given him the ball on their goal line. "Notre Dame chose less than the best [O'Leary] and they got embarrassed," Jackson told the local South Bend (Indiana) Tribune. Obviously, Jackson never gets embarrassed, but he was more determined to embarrass Notre Dame than Kevin White was to defend the school's independence. Like so many lackluster corporate suits before him, White capitulated. Tyrone Willingham was named head football coach at Notre Dame on New Year's Day.
"This is a victory for America," Jackson immediately crowed, equating, as usual, his own self-promotion with "America." In a remarkable demonstration of moralistic jiu-jitsu, Jackson had vaulted from the depths of a well-deserved exile to the top of the Golden Dome. He now feels morally superior to Notre Dame – and he will not soon let us forget it.
Oh yes, the new coach is an African-American black man, whose win-loss record at Stanford was worse than that of Bob Davie, whom White had fired for his poor win-loss record. To his credit, Mr. Willingham has a genuine devotion to academic achievement for his athletes, a valuable attribute for Notre Dame, although we'll never know whether he embraces Notre Dame's Catholic view of western civilization, or Jackson's (which was eventually adopted by Stanford).
Who knows, Willingham might surprise everybody. But Jackson hasn't done him any favors. He will have to dig out not only from a losing season, but from a mess caused by an incompetent boss and a high-flying huckster. Thanks to Jackson, White, and Nanni, Willingham's job is now a political football.
Meanwhile, Jackson is undoubtedly planning his next intimidation attack. His corporate targets will look at the ease with which he beat Notre Dame and tremble. No doubt, he's got their number – to the tune of several million each.
"Shake down the thunder from the sky," goes the Notre Dame Victory March. As usual, Jackson never got past the first two words.
January 5, 2002