News has recently surfaced that Jesse Jackson Jr., the famed son of the civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., has taken a leave of absence from Congress for an undisclosed medical condition. Congressman Jackson taking a leave of absence for a medical situation is nothing new in Congress. In fact, it’s nothing new as it relates to any human being falling ill and needing to take off from work for a period of time to get better. That’s what most people expect. What most people do not expect, and I what I find baffling, is the way this news is being treated by the congressman and his office.
To be clear, every person, regardless of his or her public position, deserves a certain zone of privacy. For example, I thought it was distasteful when medical doctors went on national television after Sen. Ted Kennedy’s brain cancer diagnosis and confidently predicted that he only had about a year to live. They were right, unfortunately, but they had no right to say that publicly, which went against the wishes of the Kennedy family.
So there needs to be a balance. A balance between the public’s right to know the general health and well-being of their elected officials, and the elected officials’ right to have some sort of medical privacy for their own dignity and out of concern for their families. By issuing vague statements such as “physical and emotional ailments,” Jackson’s office does nothing but fan the flames of pesky reporters, who have been spun before by his colleagues such as Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., Eric Massa, D-N.Y., David Wu, D-Ore. and Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., all of whom issued vague statements about their personal health or conduct under the umbrella of “privacy for my family” only to fan the flames and resign shortly thereafter.
The general public, the congressman’s constituents in Chicago and the Democratic House leadership want to know. I don’t believe the general public wants to know because they’re nosy, but because they care. Intuitively, people care about people, and people want to know that a high-profile figure with a famous namesake is doing OK. The congressman’s constituents’ want to know because they too, care about his health, but also, they want a healthy representative speaking on behalf of them in Washington, and that’s their right. The Democratic leadership wants to know, because this has become a political distraction, and they want it to end quickly and refocus all of their efforts on defeating Mitt Romney and retaking the House. “I think Congressman Jackson and his office and his family would be well advised to advise the constituents of his condition. He’s obviously facing a health problem. We have many members who are out right now.
“This is not an unusual circumstance. People get sick, and when people get sick, they miss work. Everybody in America understands that. But I think the family would be well advised to give his constituents as much information as is appropriate,” said Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who is the number two Democrat in the House, and whose comments were an about-face from a day earlier where he initially expressed general support of the congressman’s handling of the situation.
Something abnormal is happening here, and I suspect that there is more to the story, than we actually know. If history is guide, we know that the truth will come out sooner than later, and as always, we will be scratching our heads wondering why his office just did not come out and tell the truth on the onset, as opposed to covering it up. The cover-up is always worse than the actual misdeed.
Follow Robert Traynham on Twitter @roberttraynham.