One of the biggest questions in the 1988 Democratic presidential race - "What does Jesse Jackson want?" - suddenly has become another: "What will Jesse Jackson get?"
Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the party's prospective nominee, decided by selecting Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas as his running mate Tuesday that Jackson would not get the vice presidential slot as he finally said he wanted.Within hours, the civil rights leader tersely accepted Dukakis' decision as a "strategic" political move but hinted at his personal displeasure by saying icily, "I'm too controlled; I'm too clear; I'm too mature to be angry."
Jackson offered no immediate indication about what he now might seek from Dukakis as the governor's only rival with significant numbers of delegates to next week's national convention. However, said advisers such as Rep. Mickey Leland, D-Texas, "Jesse Jackson is still a force to be reckoned with."
Addressing more than 6,000 delegates to the annual NAACP convention Tuesday night, Jackson pointed to the 7 million votes he collected in the Democratic primary season and declared, "The question is often asked these days, `What does Jesse want?' (That's) contemptuous, vulgar and disrepectful.
"The question is not `What does Jesse want?' It is `What have we built?' We have built a new, progressive coalition, a permanent force in American politics. The coalition is vibrant, persistent, loyal and productive. And it is growing every day."
He noted, "Even now, I am expected to wrench the most voters, motivate the most voters and turn out the most voters, and for that kind of investment, we're not just looking for a job or a title or a position. We want equity. We want sharing responsibility. We want partnership. And we deserve it."
The Baptist preacher drew sustained applause when he concluded emotionally with eyes watering: "I may not be on the ticket, but I am qualified! That's what I know. That's what I know. Qualified. Qualified."
Jackson decided to return Wednesday to his home in Chicago, where Thursday he will lead a three-day bus caravan to the convention in Atlanta.
He brushed aside questions Tuesday about whether he was ready to urge followers to support a Dukakis-Bentsen ticket enthusiastically, saying, "We can only address that after the nomination is over. . . . We can't have the convention before the convention starts."
Yet when asked about the possibility of minority voters staying home Nov. 8 because of Bentsen, Jackson said diplomatically, "This is no time for us to proceed based upon threats. . . . Besides, it would be a mistake for you or anyone to isolate my vote into just the black vote and therefore reduce it to an ethnic bloc."
Jackson had said previously that he would have himself nominated for president, even though Dukakis is guaranteed victory with nearly 2,400 committed delegates compared with Jackson's 1,100.
Many Jackson supporters were angry that their candidate learned of the Bentsen choice in a telephone call from Dukakis late Tuesday morning - about an hour after being told of the decision by news reporters.