By J. K. Schmid
A new narrative of two ostensibly failed Jesse Jackson campaigns came to Pier 5, Saturday.
Ryan Grim, author of “We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to AOC, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement,” gave an abbreviated history of Democratic electoral politics from Carter’s defeat in 1980 to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in 2018.
Grim’s talk was held at Red Emma’s Radical Bookfair Pavilion, an event including thinkers and speakers like Lawrence Brown (Morgan State University) and Ibram X. Kendi (America University).
Ryan Grim’s book on display at Red Emma’s Radical Bookfair Pavilion/Author Ryan Grim speaking at Red Emma’s Radical Bookfair Pavilion
Approximately 30 guests attended the talk, Q&A and book signing.
Grim’s central thesis is that Jackson’s political coalition strategies remain vital and viable movements towards a politics that serves Black, poor and underserved communities.
Jackson’s campaign started late but finished strong, Grim said.
“By the time he gets in, it’s already January, they’re deep into the caucus and the primary process, and so, he’s only running, at this point, a symbolic campaign, but all of a sudden, it catches fire,” Grim said.
“The media doesn’t see it coming, the political establishment doesn’t see it coming. It can’t win because it starts too late, but it clearly taps into something.”
The man to defeat Jackson and all other Democrat comers, Walter Mondale, is handed a resounding defeat by Reagan in ‘84.
“After the ‘84 campaign wraps up, and Mondale gets wiped out by Reagan, the Jackson forces say, ‘let’s put this coalition back together in 1988 and let’s do it seriously,” Grim said.
The serious effort led to serious results: Accounts vary, but Jackson’s formidable showings in seven primaries and four caucuses left him the frontrunner before a hard defeat in Wisconsin gave the momentum, and ultimately the nomination, to Michael Dukakis. All told, Jackson doubled his performance.
Dukakis, like Carter and Mondale before him, would lead the Democrats to another decisive defeat. Dukakis apologized in 2008 for his failed campaign, theorizing that George W. Bush would never have become President if George H. W. Bush had not won in 1988.
Grim sees the 2018 Ocasio-Cortez and 2008-2016 Obama victories as emblematic of what multiracial, working-class coalition building can achieve. And attributes, at least in part, the deactivation of Obama’s coalition and network in 2008 to the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016.