The Chicago Way. Like father, like son. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree....all would apply here:
On a chill if sunny winter's day, Jesse Jackson Jr. reminded the world of the perils of being born on third base and thinking you've hit a triple.
A symbol of entitlement run terribly amok, the former congressman pleaded guilty Wednesday to grossly misusing campaign funds. The juxtaposition of his pain with the far more upbeat reality of a former constituent, Barack Obama, provided its own cautionary note on the perils of hubris and the fragility of success.
Fresh from re-election and golf with Tiger Woods, President Obama is cool, confident and riding high. On Wednesday, he gave interviews at the White House to local TV anchors and sat down with his new Secretary of State, John Kerry.
Meanwhile, the 47-year-old preppie who was once the most prominent politician on Chicago's South Side sat solemn and forlorn in the nearby federal courthouse, his career in flames and personal life in likely disarray. A student of the Civil War, he might have equated his ignominy with General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox.
The juxtaposition of Jackson and Obama forced the reminder that, not too long ago, Jackson was the black Chicago politician on a national fast track, long before anybody even knew Obama's name.
He won a special election to Congress in 1995, defeating rivals who included a state senator whose decision to run prompted Obama, an attorney and political neophyte, to go for her seat. As I listened to a federal judge detail the charges against Jackson, replete with buying reversible fur coats and Bruce Lee memorabilia, I couldn't help remember how Jackson's win signaled what many figured was a new era in Chicago and even national politics.
The son of a potent political and cultural figure, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, he became a source of worry to Chicago's powerful Daley family, who feared him as a potential challenger to Mayor Richard M. Daley.
And there was speculation of a similar order in the nation's capital, as noted Thursday by Mike Flannery, a Chicago TV political reporter and longtime Jackson family observer. Especially in his early Capitol Hill years, some foresaw that Jesse Jackson Jr. could be the first-ever African-American speaker of the House of Representatives.
After all, he was very bright, disciplined, articulate and able to cultivate young talent as he began building what seemed to be an emerging political machine in a South Side district long on poverty and violence, and short on hope. He was in a very safe Democratic district, took care of business and wound up on the very influential House Appropriations Committee, dispenser of seven- and eight-figure largess.
He didn't have his dad's charisma but he was more polished, if always less genuine than the international figure with whom frictions always existed, in part due to the pain often caused his mother by the father's roaming ways. It was not inconceivable that he one day could face off for power in the Democratic caucus against Rahm Emanuel, then a North Side congressman who envisioned himself as the first Jewish speaker of the House.
But as the years wore on, he blew it. He got a reputation as not especially hard working or effective in bringing home the bacon to his beleaguered district. He played his cards wrong with the Daley clan, who isolated him. Congressional colleagues felt that he didn't "deliver," as opposed to the maniacally focused Emanuel, who moved on to be Obama's chief of staff and now mayor of Chicago.
As Flannery puts it, there was an arrogance found in the prep and law school graduate that became increasingly apparent, one that perhaps morphed with bonafide self-delusion and even mental illness underscored by his brazen and crazy purchases with campaign monies.
First came his zealous attempt to lobby for Obama's U.S. Senate seat after Obama was elected President in 2008. The criminal trials of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich put a spotlight on Jackson contributors suggesting big money for the governor if he tapped Jackson as replacement. Jackson wasn't prosecuted but was tainted.
Then came word of an extramarital affair with a Washington bikini model and waitress, followed by the criminal probe of his campaign fund, a diagnosis of having bipolar disorder and his November resignation from Congress.
His tragic crash played out Wednesday in a doubleheader of family melancholy. First, he pleaded guilty, later telling me to "tell everybody in Chicago I know I let them down." Four hours later, his wife Sandi, now a former Chicago alderman, pleaded guilty to related tax charges. Each will be sentenced in four months, with the former congressman surely doing prison time.RELATED: Jesse Jackson Jr. Spending: 17 Things Ex-Congressman, Wife Bought With Campaign Cash