Jesse Jackson’s foul-mouthed tirade against Barack Obama in a Chicago television studio this week might have delivered the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate an unwitting political gift.
By Andrew Ward in Atlanta
The civil rights leader said he did not know the microphone was live when he accused Mr Obama of “talking down to black people” and said: “I want to cut his nuts off,” during an off-air conversation with a fellow guest.
But by exposing tensions between Mr Obama and one of the US’s most strident and polarising black leaders, the episode might help convince sceptical white voters of Mr Obama’s moderate credentials.
Mr Jackson, who twice ran for president in the 1980s, was referring to remarks by Mr Obama about the importance of personal responsibility in tackling social problems within the black community.
In recent speeches, Mr Obama has criticised the absence of fathers in many African-American homes and called for parents to put more focus on education. “Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father,’’ he said last month.
The furore sparked by Mr Jackson has helped draw attention to Mr Obama’s “tough love” rhetoric, which appeals to many conservative voters.
Mr Jackson’s comments were first aired on the right-leaning Fox News Channel on Wednesday. He later apologised and stressed his support for Mr Obama. But he urged the Illinois senator to focus on the policy failures that have undermined black communities.
Mr Obama’s comments on personal responsibility were greeted with loud applause and cheers by a largely middle-class black audience in Georgia this week, suggesting that Mr Jackson’s disapproval is not shared throughout the African-American community.