Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What was Jesse Jackson Jr. thinking while he self-destructed?

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Slow this down. Think it through, in all its reprehensible detail.

Ask yourself how an enormously gifted attorney, accustomed to the national limelight even before his eight terms in the U.S. House, could think his bold conduct involving staff members and other potential witnesses against him would remain secret.

Ask how he could squander a probable lifetime position in Congress. Squander all the good he might do there for the people he had sought to provide with better jobs and better futures.

Ask how he could humiliate not one but three generations of his globally known family -- his famous father and his young children included.

No, Jesse Jackson Jr. wouldn't be the first to delight in secret luxuries and expensive acquisitions along a reliable, efficient path to the self-destruction of his career and his reputation.

Imagine, though, the depth of conniving, or self-delusion, or entitlement, or sheer audacious recklessness, that the federal accusations against Jackson would have required of him. What the feds on Friday suggested had happened is a sustained crime spree that could succeed only if a man ensnared by elaborate financial-reporting requirements somehow kept it all secret.

Fat chance for a politician so prominent that he didn't even include his name on his campaign signs. Just the abbreviated suffix: "Jr."

We're talking about that blessed congressman -- a pol seriously mentioned as a future Chicago mayor or U.S. president -- allegedly converting $750,000 in campaign donations for the personal benefit of himself and his wife, Sandi.

That's more money than many of the defrocked congressman's former constituents on the South Side of Chicago will earn in their lifetimes. And it doesn't include an additional $28,500 in allegedly undisclosed gifts and loans.

Imagine either of them, the former congressman or the former alderman to whom he's married, variously deciding there would be no consequence other than self-satisfaction from filching that money to allegedly buy:

-- A gold-plated men's Rolex watch: $43,350; children's furniture: $9,587; cashmere capes, a mink reversible parka and black fox reversible parka: $5,150; martial arts actor Bruce Lee memorabilia: $10,105; Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. memorabilia: $11,130; Michael Jackson memorabilia (including two hats and Eddie Van Halen guitar): $26,700; blues musician Jimi Hendrix memorabilia: $2,775; and what the U.S. Department of Justice describes as, "Football signed by American Presidents": $5,000.

Those items, all totalled, don't approach $750,000. So surely there are other, allegedly illicit expenditures, not itemized in the government's 10-page document accusing Jesse Jackson Jr. of conspiracy, false statements, mail fraud and wire fraud.

The nature of the document, called a criminal information, suggests he has reached a plea agreement covering these alleged wrongdoing from 2005 through mid-2012.

Sandi Jackson's attorneys said Friday she has reached such a deal, and will plead guilty to a separate charge that she committed tax fraud for calendar years 2006 through 2011.

If and when a federal court accepts plea deals, we'll learn whether either Jackson, or both, is prison-bound. We'll learn, that is, just how blindingly darkness has fallen on two people who, fair to say, have disappointed admirers by the millions.

Some of those one-time admirers are moving on, voting on candidates who seek to replace Jesse Jackson in the House, or adjusting to a new alderman in the Chicago ward Sandi Jackson represented.

And the rest of us, who don't live in the two Jacksons' former realm?

We're left to murmur clichés about the disappointment that is.

And about the Jacksonian accomplishments that could have been.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2013 $sourceSection0

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