What's going on with Jesse Jackson Jr?

Last month, his office said he was suffering from “exhaustion.” Last week, they allowed that he’d struggled “with certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time” and was in the hospital — but would say no more. Tonight, a Democratic source tells Politico, “I don’t think he’s coming back until at least September, if he comes back at all.” His father denied a rumor broadcast on Chicago radio that Jackson had attempted suicide, but something’s obviously gravely wrong.

And the curious thing about it is that it’s DemocratsIllinois Democrats, in fact — who are pressing him to come clean. Michael Moynihan makes the case for disclosure:

With so few facts available, I can only say that if Jackson is indeed suffering from either physical or mental ailments — real problems that must be attended to by real medical professionals — it would be heartless to wish him anything but a speedy recovery. But as ABC News points out, Jackson is facing an ethics probe, and just “days before he left Congress on medical leave, a former fundraiser for Jackson, Raghuveer Nayak, was arrested by the FBI on charges of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to doctors.” Any disappearance shrouded in this much secrecy and circumlocution deserves a healthy dose of irritated skepticism.

Need I point out that Jackson is employed by his constituents, most of who cannot simply disappear from their jobs for a month without explanation? When a public servant claims that his ability to perform his job is hindered by health problems — the type that require at least a month of treatment — their medical affairs are no longer entirely private affairs. I can think of only two recent examples of politicians refusing to inform their subjects of serious medical conditions, save oblique references to a general diagnosis: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. When I was in Caracas in February, Chavez was about to again disappear to Cuba for treatment of his mystery illness. Responding to a question about whether Venezuela could still be considered a democracy, an opposition journalist huffed that in democratic countries like the United States, politicians cannot simply disappear for weeks at a time, never telling the public exactly why. I agreed.

A cynic might suspect that he’s faking to douse the heat from that ethics probe, but I wouldn’t leap to that conclusion. The ethics probe might have something to do with it, but it may be a legit case of added stress from the investigation exacerbating whatever real condition he has.

What I can’t figure out is the significance of Dick Durbin and Luis Gutierrez urging him to disclose his problem. That could cut two ways. One: They know it’s politically embarrassing and want it out sooner rather than later so that it doesn’t mess with the Democrats’ campaign messaging down the stretch. They’re throwing him to the wolves, in other words. Two: It’s not politically embarrassing but the needless mystery around it created by the Jackson family’s secrecy is starting to become a liability in itself. Rather than have people wondering if it’s something seamy, the party’s better off if he reveals his condition and puts the suspicions to rest. I’m thinking the first theory is a lot more likely than the second, but either way, expect to find out the truth soon. Democrats are obviously getting fidgety over this. If we make it to Friday without a leak from someone in the know, I’ll be shocked.

Update: Is Gutierrez pressuring Jackson out of spite?

Last year, tensions ran high between Gutierrez and Jackson after the decennial redraw of the state’s Congressional map. Jackson angered Gutierrez when he sought answers about whether the state’s burgeoning Hispanic population required a second majority House district.

Interesting, but then why is Durbin pressuring him too? I doubt he’d want to be on Jackson Sr’s bad side the next time he’s up for reelection.

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