In the grand scheme of things, the disappearance of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. hardly matters at all.
A minority party congressman drops out of sight, checks himself into some sort of treatment facility and won’t say where he is or for what, exactly, he’s being treated.
Watergate this is not.
But everybody loves a good summertime mystery. “Embattled congressman takes it on the lam!” Oh, such fun.
And there is a veritable smorgasbord of salacious details for reporters assigned to write about Jackson’s disappearance. They’re all in need of lots of padding for their stories because, frankly, there isn’t much news to report. He’s gone. Nobody is clearly answering where, why or what. That’s about it. Rehashing the nasty bits also increases the pressure on Jackson and his staff to come clean. So, rehash it is.
Jackson’s infidelity issue, splashed all over the front page of this newspaper after Jackson taunted the U.S. attorney to “bring it on,” has become a necessary story component in almost every rehash of this sad tale. Businessman Raghuveer Nayak allegedly paid to fly what Jackson called a “social acquaintance” from Washington to Chicago when his wife was away.
The uncertainty about more “bimbo eruptions” has fueled the fire of the disappearance story, despite the lack of any evidence that something else is about to come out.
And then there’s the corruption stuff that surfaced when the U.S. attorney was investigating Rod Blagojevich. Nayak allegedly set up a bribery scam to get Jackson appointed to President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat. Nayak was arrested on an unrelated charge not long before Jackson disappeared from sight, fueling much theorizing that the arrest and disappearance were somehow related.
They probably aren’t related, but there’s no convincing out-of-town reporters of that. Nayak spilled his guts to the FBI long ago and nothing came of it. Now, this month, the U.S. attorney who headed up the Blagojevich probe retired, which strongly suggested no big busts were imminent.
Jackson also is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, and that final report may not be pretty. The committee conducts its investigations in secret, so the informational black hole has prompted tons of conjecture that this could’ve triggered Jackson’s disappearance. But short of a rare expulsion vote by the House, it doesn’t appear likely that Jackson is in any real danger of losing his seat.
Jackson has been criticized for missing votes while away. But what, exactly, is he missing? The House this week voted to repeal ObamaCare — for the 33rd time. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff. Not a single bill of importance has been affected by Jackson’s absence.
Being absent from Congress this month is like skipping the first day of a college semester. You probably should go, but it’s really no big deal if you don’t.
Look, the congressman has brought much of this on himself because he won’t clearly say what’s going on. And, yes, it’s summertime and the rest of the news is mostly boring.
But that doesn’t qualify Jackson for national villain status.
* Stress of Life in the Public Eye Might Have Fueled Jackson’s Mood Disorder, Doctors Say: Besides the pressures of a high-stress job, times have been tough for Jackson lately. He became embroiled in the scandal surround President Obama’s vacant Illinois Senate seat and dealt with allegations of an extramarital affair.
* Rep. Jesse Jackson’s political future in question: But after a week in which Jackson’s staff has been forced to try to dispel an array of rumors, including one that he is in an Arizona facility being treated for alcohol and drug problems, his friends in the Congressional Black Caucus are whispering that they expect him to resign.
* Tribune Editorial: The redrawn district stretches far past the south suburbs, into parts of Will and Kankakee counties. Many of those voters aren’t familiar with Jackson and vice versa. If he can’t campaign actively for their votes, he at least owes them an explanation.
* Colleagues to Jackson: Get well: “It’s incumbent upon us to be transparent,” said Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., from McHenry. “The reason there’s a storm now, all these questions, is because he hasn’t been transparent. My thoughts and prayers are with him — whatever issues he has — but my God, we have to let our constituents know.”