Spouses Split on High Profile Political Endorsements
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Just ahead, the Democratic presidential debate last night was marked by heated exchanges between the two front-runners. But was there more heat than light? We'll talk with a group of political analysts in just a few minutes. But first, here's a campaign ad for you.
(Soundbite of political campaign ad)
Ms. JACQUELINE JACKSON: Let me tell you why I decided to support Hillary Clinton for president. As a mother and a grandmother, I know that raising children begins and ends at home. It begins with a loving family that builds esteem.
MARTIN: It's just one of the ads floating South Carolina's airwaves this week. It's a voice you may not have heard before, but it is a name you most certainly know. It is the voice of Jacqueline Jackson, the activist and wife of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and she cut this spot in support of Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign for president.
And that might not sound so unusual at first. A number of celebrities and activists and political leaders have come out for candidates this year. But what makes this interesting is that Reverend Jackson is supporting Senator Barack Obama.
And the Jacksons are not the only high-profile couple to split their vote, as it were. The author and Georgetown University professor, the Reverend Michael Eric Dyson, is also supporting Senator Obama, while his wife, the author and social activist the Reverend Marcia Dyson, is also supporting Senator Clinton.
So we have the Reverend Marcia Dyson with us. She's been campaigning for Senator Clinton in South Carolina this week. She's joining us from Myrtle Beach, the site of the debate last night. And we're also pleased to have Mrs. Jacqueline Jackson from our studio in Washington.
Ladies, hello. Thanks for joining us.
Ms. JACKSON: I'm happy to be here with you this morning, Michel. And I'm happy also to be with my dear friend, a young lady I've long admired and have had some influence in her life, Reverend Marcia Dyson. I'm happy to see you - be with you this morning, Marcia.
Reverend MARCIA DYSON (Author, Social Activist): Thank you. Same with you, Jacqueline. I appreciate her wisdom, and so glad that her voice has been put out there at this historical moment in political history.
MARTIN: So, of course, we want to ask, Mrs. Jackson, if you'd go first. What made you decide to support Senator Clinton?
Ms. JACKSON: When I felt the void in this country for a clear voice, I went to Mrs. Clinton, along with some other women, to ask her how did she feel about thinking being the first female president of this United States. And she came to shrug it off and laughed, and what have you. Little did I know that my hopes would come to fruition, and I'm here.
MARTIN: So you were first, actually. You supported Senator Clinton before your husband supported Barack Obama. Is that right?
Ms. JACKSON: Absolutely. Absolutely, and I feel as I did then, that she's the best person for this country at this time. We have a failing economy at this time. The image of women is at rock bottom. I'm looking for someone to elevate not only the economy, but the image of women. Because I know that women are the nucleus of every society, and whenever a society is failing or on its way out, look at the character, look at the way women are treated, and then you will see what the future holds for our children and that country.
And we're at the bottom at this time, and we need a female to lift us up.
MARTIN: Reverend Dyson, how did it all go - come about for you?
Rev. DYSON: Well, I've always admired Senator Clinton from afar. I admire her strength. I admire her loyalty, and I loved her perseverance. You know, a lot of people will say as - Mrs. Jacqueline Jackson and myself sometimes are introduced by our husbands' names. But one thing that we dispel when we're in the midst of those individuals that we are strong individuals in ourselves, and that we have more than likely, and have - if we all testified and our men would testify - helped shaped the men that the world admire.
And Senator Clinton just came right on board without being asked to do certain things when she was a student, as a first lady and as a gubernatorial first lady and as the first lady of the United States and as a senator, where she was an elected official. That's not an easy thing that you can do off just your husband's name, not in the state of New York, where just the five boroughs alone represents almost the entire globe, which are other citizens in whom we have to have faith.
People will ask if Hillary Clinton is great for America. Yes, she is. But she's also great for the world. She understands, as Jacqueline Jackson has said, about our failing economy, but she knows our failing economy is tied into a global economy. We talk about terrorism in the Middle East. Well, Senator Clinton knows that it's more than just terrorism in the Middle East. They're got to look at the possible economic threat that can be given through our Latin American partners to whom we've had strained relationships because of this current Bush administration have made all of our allies almost into foes. And so she's like…
MARTIN: Reverend, reverend.
Rev. DYSON: Mm-hmm?
MARTIN: I just want to - forgive me for interrupting. I just wanted to say that Mrs. Jackson pointed out that she actually supported Senator Clinton before her husband had signed on to support Senator Obama. And I just wondered, was it the same for you?
Rev. DYSON: No, it really wasn't. In fact, my husband and I were the first ones to call Obama when he made his announcement on the steps of Springville at the state capitol there. But when I started listening to her, you know, and it's very hard for me as a black and a woman. I'm quite sure, you know, that Jacqueline has a different testimony, coming from Chicago, about how to - do I distinguish that.
So what I started doing is what anybody should do if they're serious about this, our United States of America, is that you go and you study the records. And I did. I looked at her senatorial record on what she did. I read all the many books. Her life is an open book, her victories and her so-called failures. And the thing that really makes a person experience isn't all the triumph things, but it's also they can looking back, so, I'm not going to fall into that pothole again.
MARTIN: All right.
Rev. DYSON: And not only will you not fall into it, you'll go back and cement it up. And that's what I found about her.
MARTIN: Now, ladies, I don't want to get into your business. But I'm sure all of us are dying to know what the kitchen table conversations were like when it became clear that you were going to go in different directions. And Mrs. Jackson, I have to ask you. You're boxed because your son is Congressman Jackson - Congressman Jackson, Jr. is supporting Senator Obama, also. So can you just give us a little sense of - what was the conversation at dinner?
Ms. JACKSON: Well, it was rough. But I have always had my own opinion about many issues. And sometimes I'm able to persuade them, and sometimes I'm not. But what is wonderful about my family, they have always allowed me to be opinionated. They are not as chauvinistic as they appear.
But one of the things that I want to add to this: I'm happy that Mrs. Clinton is the leading candidate at this time, because we must dispel this notion that smart men do not marry smart women. And one of the reasons for their brilliance, and certainly Mr. - President Clinton is hailed as one of the brightest of the brightest, one of the reasons he is bright is because of the assistance he receives from a bright woman.
MARTIN: Let me just interject for one second. If you're just joining us, we're speaking with Jacqueline Jackson and the Reverend Marcia Dyson about their support for Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign for president. They're both married to high-profile supporters of Senator Barack Obama.
I have to ask you this. Since we've been here in South Carolina, we've just, you know, heard some interesting feedback about how the support for each of these candidates is breaking down. And I know that people are familiar with the James Carville-Mary Matalin scenario, two high-profile political operatives who belonged to different parties. He's a Democrat and a Republican - and she's a Republican. But we're not used to seeing this in the African-American communities so much, I think.
And we met some ladies down here who said it makes them uncomfortable to see you standing apart from your husbands on something like this. They say that it speaks to division within the black family that makes them uncomfortable.
And I just wondered if anyone else had said that, and what do you make of that, Mrs. Jackson?
Ms. JACKSON: Well, this is a heart and head campaign. I believe that families can disagree and not be disagreeable. We are all individuals in a household. My children are young adults, or perhaps, old people now in their 40s. They have an opinion about things. I have a son who is a congressman, and he supports Barack Obama. I have a son who is a businessman, and he supports Hillary. And I won't identify the persuasions of my children and my family member, because they are not present to defend their positions.
But this campaign is a very difficult one. As I said, it's a heart and head matter. We're in a failing economy. We need someone who has - who clearly has references and resources, individuals they know who can put this thing back together again. I admire and respect the accomplishments of Barack and his lovely wife, Michelle. I'm very proud of them. And I would hope that this will not be their last campaign. I…
MARTIN: Can I just briefly hear from Revered Dyson on this point? Reverend Dyson, since we have only about a minute left, the…
Rev. DYSON: Yes, I think that - right.
MARTIN: …this whole question, that it makes uncomfortable…
Rev. DYSON: Well, you know, you're on the buckle of the Bible belt. And women are taught to be solid and to be submissive to their husbands (unintelligible) account to one's religious indoctrination really influence their political (unintelligible). But this is a moment for women in history. You know, there's such a time as this that we ought not to be silent. This is a time for women to rise up, because the economy is based up on the hardships as women. We stimulate the economy by - are we going to buy shoes? Are we going to buy makeup? Are we going to get a liposuction? Which is driven by male greed.
And also, with a head start, our children can sometimes be our heartaches if they're not educated probably. That's a mother's problem, especially when so many of the households are headed by single family women. And also health care, obesity is great among our young. There are more diseases with our young children - be getting diabetes and in young women, lupus - that's on the increase, and we have to make sure that we have someone to understand that a lot of the issues in most countries of the world are women issues. And who are the most sensitive to that, I think, a woman.
Rev. DYSON: Could the men have that feminist sensibility? Yes. But I think a woman has it in almost intuitively.
Ms. JACKSON: Well, health care…
MARTIN: All right. We need to leave it there. I'm sorry, Mrs. Jackson, we have to leave it there. I hope you'll come back and talk to us again.
Rev. DYSON: Okay.
Ms. JACKSON: All right. Thank you.
MARTIN: All right.
Ms. JACKSON: Thank you.
Ms. JACKSON: And I hope we make the right choices.
MARTIN: All right. Jacqueline Jackson is a civil rights activist. She's also the wife of the Reverend Jesse Jackson. She joined us from our studio in Washington. We were also joined by the Reverend Marcia Dyson. She's an author, a social commentator and an activist. She's also the wife of the Reverend Michael Eric Dyson. They are both supporting Senator Hillary Clinton in her campaign for president.
Ladies, thank you both so much.
Rev. DYSON: Thank you.
Ms. JACKSON: Thank you, Michel.