Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Sam Tanenhaus

Jesse Jackson Created the Modern Democratic Party

His vision of culturally diverse liberalism paved the way for Obama, and beyond.
Jesse Jackson, party modernizer.

Jesse Jackson, party modernizer.

Photographer: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images
Updated on

One of the more arresting moments in the presidential campaign came last week, when Hillary Clinton had a spirited exchange with activists from Black Lives Matter. "Look, I don't believe you change hearts," Clinton said, when pressed about her support for their goals. "I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate."

In that instant, Clinton did not sound like a "Clinton Democrat" -- at least not the kind her husband implied he was in the early 1990s when he emphasized the theme of "responsibility," and sternly told a black audience, "I cannot do for you what you will not do for yourself." Her words seemed more evocative of those used in 1984 by one of his adversaries, Jesse Jackson, who reminded voters how structural changes had come only through activism that had "ended American apartheid laws," "secured voting rights" and "obtained open housing."