By Jonathan D. Salant
July 10 (Bloomberg) -- The Reverend Jesse Jackson's derogatory comments about Barack Obama could provide a boost for the presumptive Democratic nominee, giving him an opportunity to win over some voters who have been skeptical of his candidacy.
Jackson was appearing on Fox News on July 6 when a microphone picked up his remark suggesting that Obama was ``talking down to black people'' in recent speeches at black churches, according to a tape of the comments played on Bill O'Reilly's show on the Fox News Channel.
He then said, referring to Obama, ``I want to cut his nuts off,'' according to the Fox News Web site. At the time, he was speaking to Reed Tuckson, executive vice president and chief medical officer of United Health Group Inc.
Jackson, 66, apologized for his remarks, telling CNN yesterday that they were ``crude.'' The comments may turn out to help Obama by emphasizing his call for personal responsibility, a favorite topic of Republicans, said Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia.
``It reinforces Obama's effort to present himself as an advocate of responsible personal behavior, a position that Republican candidates like to secure as uniquely their own,'' Rozell said.
The Illinois senator, who in August stands to be the first minority candidate to be nominated for president by a major political party, spent Father's Day last month at one of Chicago's largest black churches telling the audience that they should set better examples for their children and shouldn't abandon them.
``Any fool can have a child. That doesn't make you a father,'' Obama, 46, said at the Apostolic Church of God, which has more than 20,000 members. ``Too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes.''
Jackson's comments help Obama in other ways as well, said Steffen Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University in Ames.
``This helps Obama make the case that he is not a `black' leader but just a Democratic candidate for president,'' Schmidt said. ``Cynics are asking if Jackson made this comment on purpose to help Obama.''
Jackson, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, said he didn't know the microphone was on when he commented on Obama's speeches.
`I Offer Apologies'
``Anything I said in a hot-mic statement that's interpreted as a distraction, I offer apologies for that,'' Jackson said at a news conference yesterday after his remarks became public.
``I have supported Barack's campaign with passion from the very beginning. I thought the very idea made sense,'' Jackson said. ``We've been there all the way, because I think this campaign is a redemptive moment for America and a great opportunity to redefine America.''
Jackson told CNN that his criticism about Obama was that he ``comes down as speaking down to black people.'' He said Obama should also be talking in the black community about issues like health care, jobs and justice.
``That's a range of issues on the menu,'' he said. ``Then I said something I regret was crude.''
Jackson's comments were criticized by his son, Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., an Illinois Democrat and a national co-chairman of Obama's presidential campaign.
``I thoroughly reject and repudiate his ugly rhetoric,'' the lawmaker said in a statement. ``He should keep hope alive and any personal attacks and insults to himself.''
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said Obama ``will continue to speak out about our responsibilities to ourselves and each other, and he of course accepts Reverend Jackson's apology.''
He should do more than just forgive Jackson, said David Schultz, a professor in the graduate school of management at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
``Obama should give Jackson and O'Reilly an award for helping his campaign with white voters,'' Schultz said.