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The Curious Case of the Missing Congressman
August 7, 2012 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., son of revered civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, Sr., has been missing from the public eye since June 10th, failing to cast votes and making no public appearances. After weeks of vague statements raising more questions than answers about his mystery illness, Jackson's office has stated that he is seeking treatment for "debilitating" depression at the Mayo Clinic. Jackson's office denies alcoholism or drug addiction.

Treatment for depression is rarely good for political careers, perhaps the most high-profile disaster was in 1972 when Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton was dumped from the ill-fated ticket after his treatment history surfaced.

Jackson's handling of his health contrasts with fellow Illinois politician Sen. Mark Kirk's open handling of his stroke this year. With only weeks to go until the November election, if Jackson were to resign as Democratic nominee in this safe blue seat, his successor would be hand-picked by the Cook County Democratic Party chair instead of at a primary. Chicago politicos have begun comparing this episode to 2006, when Cook County Board President John Stoger suffered a stroke one week before the primary, only to hide the condition until he could be replaced by his son.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College (39 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Whatever the political wrangling is behind it, and whatever negative personal feelings people have toward the Jackson family -

I for one wish him well, and hope that he recovers from whatever is effecting him.
posted by Flood at 11:40 AM on August 7, 2012 [24 favorites]


There is still a huge stigma attached to mental illness. I don't think there's really a fair comparison to be drawn to Sen. Kirk.

Also, I for one do revere Jesse Jackson, Sr. He has made some missteps but they are overshadowed by his long proud record of battling for civil rights in the US.
posted by bearwife at 11:40 AM on August 7, 2012 [19 favorites]


bearwife--would like to double or triple my favorite for your comment. I have a great deal of respect for Jesse Jackson, Sr.--I only expect those I admire to be human--not saintly or superhuman.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:48 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have recurring depression, and I totally understand/follow the inclination to hide it. It's not often a *good* idea (for me), but when I'm in the depths there's just no way I'm going to tell someone, it feels like one more failure in the shit-show that (I inaccurately perceive) is my life.

Add that to the actual stigma that exists for depression & mental health issues over physical health, and I can't blame him.

I wish him well - I don't know his record or politics, but it'd be nice to see some people with open-ish depression as Reps.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:49 AM on August 7, 2012 [14 favorites]


I don't blame him for not wanting to go public with his mental health issues, but I wish I lived in a world where seeking treatment for your depression were not looked on as a political and professional liability.

Frankly I wish I lived in a world where not seeking treatment for your mental health problems was a liability.
posted by gauche at 11:53 AM on August 7, 2012 [39 favorites]


Best of luck to Jackson on working through his illness. A little more openness from his office from the outset about his condition would have been welcome, but given how badly people react to learning about an ordinary person's mental illness, let alone a politician's, I can't blame them.

And yet it's plain that mental illness isn't a career-ender necessarily. This article mentions Gov. Lawton Chiles of Florida (depression), Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island (bipolar disorder), Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota (depression), all reelected after disclosing their issues. Even Thomas Eagleton continued to serve in the Senate until the 1980s. So it's certainly possible for politicians with mental illness to succeed. Probably the biggest laggard on this, in fact, is national political journalism, which still has a rather priggish attitude about who is the appropriate sort of person to lead the country.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:55 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Jackson's handling of his health contrasts with fellow Illinois politician Sen. Mark Kirk's open handling of his stroke this year.

In Americans' eyes, "recovering from a stroke" = "courageous fortitude overcoming a setback". But "dealing with debilitating depression" = "weakling with a major character flaw"

It's not fair, but that's the awful bias in our society. Even if he recovers, you know his opponents with go with whisper campaigns about Jackson not "being right in the head".

I wish Jackson a full recovery and a healthy life, but his career as an elected official is essentially over.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:57 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


[out-of-the-gate-derails considered poor form. Try again folks?]
posted by jessamyn at 12:06 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure whether to be happy or sad to learn that he wasn't out hiking the Appalachian Trail.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:09 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a sad state of affairs when any illness -- mental, physical, or addiction (which falls into mental health issues, but is really its own thing in this country) has to be hidden in order for the sufferer to be considered a productive member of society.

More people would seek treatment without the stigma, but the stigma is strengthened by the fact that people don't seek treatment due to the stigma...it's so circular it makes one's head hurt.

I wish him well.
posted by xingcat at 12:15 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Frankly I wish I lived in a world where not seeking treatment for your mental health problems was a liability.

Aw, yo.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:15 PM on August 7, 2012


No, he's going to be indicted for corruption related to the senate seat Rod Blagojevich was trying to sell to the highest bidder.

That's got to weigh on a man's soul.
posted by R. Schlock at 12:16 PM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


As Sir Terry Pratchett says, "It's not your fault, but it is your responsibility." Getting in-patient treatment for depression is grabbing responsibility by the horns, and makes him an excellent role model for his constituents. My only criticism is with his PR staff, who should have been up front about the situation.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:17 PM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, look for diminished mental capacity as evidenced by his stint in a hospital to figure prominently in his criminal defense.
posted by R. Schlock at 12:17 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wish Jackson well. If he comes through this, the experience may even make him more effective as a legislator. It's already known that mild depression (not Jackson's case, obviously) appears to make one for sensitive to others.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:26 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And yet James Inhofe, who is clearly suffering from paranoid delusions or some sort of early-onset dementia, continues to occupy the Senate.
posted by gompa at 12:30 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wish Jackson a full recovery and a healthy life, but his career as an elected official is essentially over.

I think his career's only over if he resigns (either the seat or candidacy). It's not like he'd lose re-election and he got 70% in the last primary. Basically, the party would have to force him out and I don't know that they would.

(I am interested to note that Kirk's old seat has become competitive in the last few years. I wonder what happened there.)
posted by hoyland at 12:33 PM on August 7, 2012


It's his decision on whether to be an advocate for mental health care after this, or whether to go back to business as usual in his work, but it would be very interesting if he emerged from this experience with a sense that psychiatric illness and disability is one of the last civil rights frontiers.
posted by availablelight at 12:33 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, he's going to be indicted for corruption related to the senate seat Rod Blagojevich was trying to sell to the highest bidder.

I know he is widely known to be "Senate Candidate 5" from the Blagojevich wiretap transcripts and that there is general feeling that probably acted inappropriately in trying to be appointed to the seat, but do you have any evidence that he will actually be indicted? Blagojevich was arrested nearly four years ago; it's getting a bit late in the game for prosecutors to be bringing new charges in that case.
posted by enn at 12:35 PM on August 7, 2012


And yet James Inhofe, who is clearly suffering from paranoid delusions or some sort of early-onset dementia, continues to occupy the Senate.

Comments like these demonstrate why seeking treatment for mental health problems is a third-rail in American politics.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:39 PM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


do you have any evidence that he will actually be indicted

Raghuveer Nayak, the go-between on the Jackson/Blago deal was indicted on June 20th. I expect things will start moving pretty quickly now.

This is political theatre in advance of a criminal trial, plain and simple. From the misty-eyed comments in this thread, it looks like it's a strategy that could work.
posted by R. Schlock at 12:47 PM on August 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


All this is on the heels of the implication that he was fully aware that forces were prepared to buy the senate seat on his behalf from Rod Blagojevich and then various dirt surfacing about his purported affair with a 'blond hostess'.

All I know is that it's a hard life to be Jesse Jackson, Jr. with his father's legacy and expectations.
posted by readery at 12:49 PM on August 7, 2012


Well, shit. Sometimes I feel like anyone who *isn't* depressed these days isn't paying attention.
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 12:50 PM on August 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's a sad state of affairs when any illness -- mental, physical, or addiction (which falls into mental health issues, but is really its own thing in this country) has to be hidden in order for the sufferer to be considered a productive member of society.

I've been watching this case with interest. I'm taking medical leave next semester (I'm a teacher) because my bipolar disorder has me unable to say if I can get out of bed from one day to the next. Fully half of the (very small number of) people I've told about my condition can't understand why I don't just get the hell up. Hell, even I wonder that. I feel guilty for taking leave, guilty for applying for disability, but so often I cannot. get. out. of. bed. And I'm trying to keep my leave reason from the rest of the department because I can only imagine all the potential grade challenges that will result once students hear that their teacher is crazy. But my condition is probably going to come out, and I'm expecting my public identity to change accordingly. I can only imagine what this must be like for someone whose job is 90% public identity.
posted by Lectrolamb at 12:53 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Raghuveer Nayak, the go-between on the Jackson/Blago deal was indicted on June 20th.

Yeah, on a completely unrelated charge. I'm not convinced.
posted by enn at 12:56 PM on August 7, 2012


I'm not convinced.

Really? Because a multi-million dollar indictment seems to me like a really good way to induce someone to roll over on a high-profile criminal conspirator.

But then, I'm just cynical that way. I suppose time will tell.
posted by R. Schlock at 1:00 PM on August 7, 2012


I really hope this is what it is on the surface. Because, though I understand the stigma against seeking treatment for mental health issues, it really seems like much more going on -- and if it turns out there is something more AND people are playing the mental health stigma charge, that's a bit more ick than I care to forgive.

Unfortunately, if forced to bet, I'm afraid I'm going to be disappointed.

(I don't think this has anything to do with the Blagojevich troubles however. I think it's an entirely new, unknown issue.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:01 PM on August 7, 2012


On a more cheerful note, I was in hospital for a month with depression but when I came out my career (which is very crappy and small-scale) actually went better. I work in the 'creative' writing bit of advertising. People wanted to hire me because I might be 'hot' and plus they could hear about it all.

(This then depressed me in itself. You can't win.)
posted by colie at 1:01 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fully half of the (very small number of) people I've told about my condition can't understand why I don't just get the hell up. Hell, even I wonder that. I feel guilty for taking leave, guilty for applying for disability, but so often I cannot. get. out. of. bed. And I'm trying to keep my leave reason from the rest of the department because I can only imagine all the potential grade challenges that will result once students hear that their teacher is crazy. But my condition is probably going to come out, and I'm expecting my public identity to change accordingly. I can only imagine what this must be like for someone whose job is 90% public identity.

I have a family history of depression so am familiar with what happens with people. Even though I had that experience it wasn't until I got hit with it last winter that I really, soundly understood what it was like to just not be able to get out of bed, have a shower etc. It's not that I thought before that depressed people should 'just do it'. I knew enough about depression to know what happens. I think it's something that people just have to accept to be the case though because I think it's hard for people to truely imagine what it's like to have you brain, thoughts and body go into revolt unless they've experienced it themselves.

The lack of 'mind' control scared the bejeesus out of me when it happened. Thankfully my getting out of it happened quickly and easily with one visit to the doctor. Never ever want to go back to that place again.

Hopefully leave will help get things for you on a good track again. I wish you the best.
posted by Jalliah at 1:12 PM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


R. Schlock: "do you have any evidence that he will actually be indicted From the misty-eyed comments in this thread, it looks like it's a strategy that could work."

Ugh. Really? Did you have to phrase it like that?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 5:50 PM on August 7, 2012


as black latina, my family is hit with a double whammy of depression and denial about how debilitating it can. and that it is not only a syndrome that has most of the time little to do with sadness, but that is also a huge marker for other problems like heart disease, diabetes, ADHD, dementia and Alzheimer's disease ---health issues that also plague people of african and indigenous american ancestry as well.

i would write more about it but it's really painful for me to do so at the moment because i am living my own private hell of a battle with depression at the moment.
posted by liza at 5:58 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Both of my parents almost certainly have undiagnosed anxiety disorders and/or depression, and on one side it's a family secret that my grandfather suffered from very serious depression and was treated with ECT in the 60s.

Yet shame and denial run very, very deep, even while proclaiming the opposite. Yet a common threat in my house was "take you to a therapist to find out what the hell is wrong with you."
posted by desuetude at 10:36 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the idea that this is a pre-trial strategy is laughable. Think about it for a minute. He is in an inpatient care facility. He can't easily meet with his defense team. He is going to probably be medicated and supervised most of the time. He won't be able to meet with friendly media. I've cant hold fundraisers for his legal defense fund. There arn't even any real charges yet, just some rumors. What does he get out of this some possible juror sentiment for a trial that might not happen for a couple years? No way.
posted by humanfont at 11:48 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Raghuveer Nayak, the go-between on the Jackson/Blago deal was indicted on June 20th. I expect things will start moving pretty quickly now.

That's not evidence of Jackson about to be indicted at all. It's a story about a fundraiser indicted on charges related to his business. Saying that it's evidence of Jackson about to be indicted is a out as skeevy as the language in that last Trib link.
posted by 3.2.3 at 4:35 AM on August 8, 2012


I think the idea that this is a pre-trial strategy is laughable. Think about it for a minute. He is in an inpatient care facility. He can't easily meet with his defense team. He is going to probably be medicated and supervised most of the time. He won't be able to meet with friendly media. I've cant hold fundraisers for his legal defense fund. There arn't even any real charges yet, just some rumors. What does he get out of this some possible juror sentiment for a trial that might not happen for a couple years? No way.

It can be both. I have no doubt he is actually mentally ill. (And I empathize with him and his family about that.) But I also have little doubt that IF he is brought to trial, his mental illness will be used as part of a defense. This is a very cynical and politically minded family. Obviated by the fact that their story as to his absence keeps changing.

With only weeks to go until the November election, if Jackson were to resign as Democratic nominee in this safe blue seat, his successor would be hand-picked by the Cook County Democratic Party chair instead of at a primary.

It also can't be a coincidence that they first announced his illness moments after the filing deadline passed for getting on the ballot to run against him as an independent.
posted by gjc at 5:05 AM on August 8, 2012


Being an Illinois politican can be killer.
Get well Mr. Jackson.
posted by clavdivs at 8:29 AM on August 8, 2012


For all of those so concerned with filing deadlines and election politics as totally scheming and slimy, one might want to also consider the incredible political risk of admitting to mental illness & treatment. We've already rehashed the McGovern/Eagleton angle here. Never mind in the Black community. Never mind in the religious community.

To wait to announce until after an independent can jump on the ticket at the news, to exploit his vulnerability makes political sense. Mental illness is being used as a weapon a lot in this discussion -- announce vs not announce, how announce, why announce.

The ambivalent responses here would absolutely give me huge pause for reflection, were I in his position. And let's be reminded that we're a self-selected group of critical thinkers.
posted by Sweetdefenestration at 11:45 AM on August 8, 2012


Yeah, that's kind of the point: there is political risk in running for an office that one is currently AWOL from. That's why he (or his people) delayed the announcement. Instead of being honest and forthright, they chose silence and obfuscation. It shows a disrespect for the voters and for his political ideals. It's not like he has a vice-congressman who can push the button while he is gone: the people he ASKED to represent are going unrepresented, and then he made a conscious decision to give them LESS choice at the ballot box. Instead of trusting them to decide for themselves, he (or his people) showed cynical distrust. That ain't right, and that's what I am criticizing him for. (Oh, and setting up a scenario where an unqualified republican could take the seat instead of a more like-minded independent.)

His people are the ones making a big deal about mental illness. If his people had simply said "the Congressman is in treatment for depression, deal with it" within, oh, the first week, almost nobody could legitimately criticize him. Instead, they chose to hide it and make it into a much bigger deal.

It's not the thing, it's the coverup.

I'm sorry he is suffering and I hope he gets better.
posted by gjc at 7:31 PM on August 8, 2012


(Oh, and setting up a scenario where an unqualified republican could take the seat instead of a more like-minded independent.)

Is this remotely likely? I can't find any polling (never mind recent polling), but that seat's not considered in play. At all. Plus the Republican's not exactly moderate.
posted by hoyland at 7:51 PM on August 8, 2012


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