Kevin Jackson wrote the book on how to win (white) friends and influence (black) people

Kevin Jackson wrote the book on how to win (white) friends and influence (black) people
Jennifer Silverberg

Kevin Jackson wrote the book on how to win (white) friends and influence (black) people

What on earth is a black man doing onstage at a Tea Party rally?

There he is, standing at the microphone, wearing jeans and a navy-and-white-striped polo shirt and a red "We the People" stickpin. He's short and stocky and looks like the linebacker he once was. The sun gleams off his shaved head. "All right, Tea Party!" he cries. "I'm happier than a hippie who made it through Customs to be here!"

This is just one of many strange sights at today's rally in Tinley Park, Illinois, about 30 miles southwest of Chicago. The first surprise is that only about 50 people bothered to show up. They're scattered around a parking lot that could easily hold ten times that number, most of them huddled in patches of shade to avoid the unseasonable heat.

The second is George Washington, who rode in on a white horse and graciously accepted a copy of the Constitution from a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars color guard. Sure, it's an honor for the president of the Constitutional Convention to be here, especially since he's been dead for 200 years, but on closer inspection, George looks a little...odd. Feminine, you might say. Wearing a wig that resembles a pile of congealed spaghetti and a pair of diamond earrings.

Compared to that radical reinterpretation of history, it doesn't seem so weird that a black man would be addressing the Tea Party. Sure, it's rumored to be composed of a bunch of angry racist wing nuts who wave banners comparing President Obama to Hitler and spit on members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which includes Congressman John Lewis, the last of the civil-rights icons. But then again, this is the month that fourteen African Americans are running for Congress as Republicans, some of them supported by — can it be? — the Tea Party.

What exactly is going on here?

Allow our man at the mic to explain.

"I've had to defend myself against charges of being a race traitor," he tells the crowd. "Against what race? The human race? The left has wielded racism like a dirty nuclear weapon and destroyed blacks and whites. We're being robbed, politically castrated. Have you had enough?"

"Yeah!" shout the faithful.

"We're all warriors!" he yells back. "I fight not for money, not for notoriety, but because I love this country. This is a historic moment for us. We're the next Greatest Generation. And I'm a Bible-clutching, gun-loving American — who happens to be black!"

Meet Kevin Jackson. He's 47 years old and lives in St. Louis' Compton Heights neighborhood. Over the past year and a half, he has, by his own estimation, spoken at more than 100 Tea Party rallies. He's also an author (his book, The Big Black Lie, is for sale at this very rally); a blogger; a frequent guest on conservative talk radio, CNN and the Glenn Beck Program; a TV producer; and a fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute, a political think tank at the University of Kansas. On November 1, the day before Election Day, he's slated to emcee a Tea Party event in New Hampshire, where the featured speaker will be Sarah Palin. Someday soon he may be known as the right's answer to Jon Stewart or the political version of Dave Chappelle (whichever project pans out first).

Two years ago, though, he was just a Midwestern businessman with a blog called the Black Sphere.

Maybe the real question is not "What is he doing here?" but "How did he get here?"

Chapter 1: Find Your Message
Like most black Americans, Kevin Jackson's family always voted Democrat. His grandparents, who raised him and his brother, were ardent political junkies, especially in election years, when they'd gather around the TV after dinner to watch the convention speeches.

"They were both particularly keen on evaluating speeches, especially those given by black Democrats," Jackson recounts in The Big Black Lie: How I Learned the Truth About the Democrat Party, a memoir/polemic he self-published in 2009. "My brother and I were made to watch all the coverage with the usual commentary from one or both grandparents, 'That [insert Democrat here] can really speak!'"

In 1976 Barbara Jordan, a black congresswoman from Jackson's home state of Texas, spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Jackson, thirteen at the time, recalls coming away unimpressed: "I felt that she'd spoken as a victim, not as a self-reliant, accomplished woman," he wrote. "It was a rah-rah speech that focused more on problems, than solving them."

It was Ronald Reagan, who spoke at that year's Republican convention, who stirred young Jackson's soul: "Reagan...painted a picture of America and her citizens. He spoke of education, hard work and accountability — all things my grandparents preached to me and my brother. I remember thinking to myself, 'This is the party that should be getting our votes!'"

And that was the party that got Jackson's votes as soon as he was old enough to cast them. Why should he support policies he didn't agree with just because he was part of a demographic that was expected to vote Democrat?

"I don't buy into that rhetoric that we must all think alike," he says now. "In order to be black, you have to wear jeans, a wife-beater, pants hanging down, dreads, get a grill, listen to rap music and have no job. Many black people don't buy into that. There's this idea that you have to be a Democrat and watch BET, like there's a checklist of blackness."

In Jackson's mind, the Democrats had become the party of victimhood, while the Republicans were the party of optimism.

But during the 2008 election season, he began to get pissed off at the Republicans, too. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama dominated the airwaves. All the Republicans had was John McCain, a man Jackson believed was competent but insufficiently conservative. That summer Jackson spent a lot of time yelling at the TV.

And he started channeling his rage into his blog. He'd conceived the Black Sphere as an account of his daily life, to keep his family and friends apprised of his many business trips for Hitachi Consulting. But gradually politics took over.

"People were digging the blog," he says. "A friend said I should build myself up locally. So I contacted someone at the Tea Party, and they put me in touch with Dana. She said they were speakered up for their Tax Day rally but that I could emcee."

"Dana" is Dana Loesch, who along with Bill Hennessy was one of the organizers of the earliest Tea Party rallies in St. Louis.

"I'd never spoken to 10,000 people before," Jackson goes on. "I was used to board rooms with ten or twenty. The day of the rally, I was sitting in a restaurant across the street watching the people pour in, and I was grinning like a Cheshire cat. It was like something had possessed me."

Chapter 2: Tell Your Story
In July 2009 Hitachi started laying off workers in Jackson's division. He accepted a buyout, figuring it would give him more time to write and promote the autobiography he was working on, which would eventually become The Big Black Lie. If you're going to be a public figure, you need a good life story, and Jackson thought his was instructive.

He was born in Texas in 1963. His father abandoned the family soon after.

"My dad was a complete deadbeat," Jackson says. "He lived in California. He was a drug addict from age eight. At a party at my grandmother's house, there were dead soldiers lined up on the coffee table. He took a swig, and everyone laughed. He was a brilliant man, but he was dependent on something from the time he was eight till he died."

Jackson's father served time in San Quentin for armed robbery. As an adult Jackson would only see him twice. Most of their conversations revolved around his father asking him for money.

Jackson's mother, who remarried, died when Jackson was seven. Jackson and his older brother Kirk went to live with their maternal grandparents, who worked as caretakers for the (white) owners of a 25,000-acre cattle ranch near the central Texas town of Brady. Life in Brady taught young Jackson some important lessons about race and class.

"The wealthy family for whom my grandparents worked was rarely there," Jackson wrote in an essay for American Thinker, an online magazine. "My grandparents did their shopping for them, hired maintenance people, and so on. Bills were sent to Barfield — their accountant, and bills were paid.... To all the merchants in Brady, my family was rich because we were real.... People didn't see me or my family as black, but as a solid family of the community. Black was a non sequitur. You could say that we were treated white in Brady, but I say we were treated economically!"

The owners gave Kevin and Kirk a horse apiece and paid their tuition at a private military school in Dallas. From his father Jackson had inherited an ability to sound "white" when he wanted to — The Big Black Lie is full of stories of business associates who are astounded by his appearance when they finally meet him in the flesh — and he blended easily into this world of privilege.

But on vacations Jackson would leave the bubbles of ranch and school to visit relatives in San Antonio. There he learned what it was like to be a poor kid in dorky clothes (fashions in Brady were several years behind those in the city). There wasn't much money, or a TV that worked reliably, so at night the family would sit around and talk and play cards with the neighbors and eat takeout fried chicken.

"I loved knowing both lives," Jackson wrote, "the lives of rich and poor, not black and white."

It has not escaped Jackson's notice that his biography strongly resembles that of another prominent African American who was abandoned by his father, raised by his grandparents and, after spending much of his life among whites, lauded for his ability to appeal to both races.

"Unlike Obama," Jackson says dryly, "I don't write about the guy who abandoned my family and exalt him."

Jackson attended Southern Methodist University, where he majored in engineering, but soon after graduation he switched to sales and business consulting, including a one-year stint as a venture capitalist in China. He moved to St. Louis in 2002 and settled into the brick row house where he still lives, on the eastern edge of Compton Heights. ("I should've bought in Lafayette Square," he says ruefully.)

Along the way he married twice and divorced twice, fathering four sons who range in age from four to twenty-one. (Aside from giving their ages, he refuses to discuss them in interviews.) And he earned enough to be able to sink $300,000 of his own money into self-publishing his book and traveling around the country for unpaid speaking engagements.

Chapter 3: Join the Tea Party
If Jackson had wanted to advance in the Republican Party, right now he'd probably be stuffing envelopes, hosting fundraisers and begging party leaders to give him a few thousand dollars to help bring in the black vote. As it happens he has yet to donate any money to the party, and local party leaders have no idea who he is. ("If I saw him, I might recognize his face," offers Jerry Hunter, a partner at Bryan Cave and, for the past 40 years, one of the leading black Republicans in Missouri.)

Not that the Republican Party is all that interested in bringing in the black vote. "African Americans vote overwhelmingly Democrat, and there's no signs that that's going to change," says political statistician Nate Silver, the mastermind behind the blog FiveThirtyEight.

It's the Democrats who can't win without the blacks, affirms Michael Minta, a political-science professor at Washington University. "All the Republicans need to do is pull a certain percentage of blacks from the Democratic party to win."

Whatever the case, by the time Jackson started doing politics full time, he'd become disenchanted with the Republicans.

"The Republican Party — no offense — is not working," he explains. "The people I want to reach — youth and diversity — aren't listening. And the party machine says, 'If I can't control you, I won't get behind you.'"

The Tea Party, by contrast, was wide open, lacking a hierarchy or, for that matter, any formal structure. But unlike the Republicans, who'd begun to splinter, most Tea Party members were in accord.

"People forget that parties are coalitions," says Bill Lacy, a former member of the Reagan administration who now directs the University of Kansas' Dole Institute in Lawrence. "A coalition has to be people who are together on 70 to 80 percent of the issues. One thing that's fascinating about the Tea Party is that most members agree on 70 percent of the things. To be successful as a coalition, you have to get people of all races and creeds who agree on issues."

One of Jackson's earliest moments of national attention came in April 2009, when he published a blog post denouncing actress Janeane Garofalo, who had called the Tea Party racist.

"As a black man I love it when ignorant white women like Janeane Garofalo speak for all blacks," he wrote. "It's thrilling to me that Janeane would take time out of her busy Hollyweird life to protect me and my peeps, the downtrodden, the oppressed...the lowly Negro."

It was one of Jackson's first blog entries to be widely reposted on conservative websites in the United States and Canada.

And Garofalo's protests notwithstanding, Jackson had a point.

"There's not too many Tea Party-type black conservatives in the black community," Nate Silver allows. "But I don't think the Tea Party is racist. The Tea Partiers care more about ideas than appearances."

"President Bush and the Republicans who governed from 2001 to 2008 did not govern as conservatives," adds Lacy. "The [Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act] was the biggest entitlement since LBJ. A heavy deficit is not Republican. The Tea Party has risen up in reaction to that — the perception of the Tea Party versus the Establishment."

It made sense, then, that Kevin Jackson, with his disgust for the current Republican Party and his unwillingness to be a good soldier, fit right in.

"It's rich territory for anyone who wants to pursue it," says Jamie Allman, host of the conservative talk-radio show Allman in the Morning on KFTK (97.1 FM) — where since January Jackson has been a weekly guest. "That's the great thing about a grass-roots movement: There's still enough room for everyone to succeed and play a part."

Within a few months, Jackson attracted the attention of Gina Loudon, host of The Dr. Gina Show on KJSL (630 AM). Jackson says Loudon offered to be his publicist and edit The Big Black Lie. Though their partnership would end acrimoniously (Jackson claims Loudon was envious of his success and tried to sabotage his career; Loudon declines to comment), Jackson had found an ally to help him get noticed.

Their split hurt Jackson in St. Louis — he no longer considers himself part of the St. Louis Tea Party and rarely speaks at local rallies — but by then he'd made it to Glenn Beck and The O'Reilly Factor. And again, the fragmented nature of the national Tea Party worked in his favor: Groups in San Francisco and Houston didn't care about his beef with Loudon, as long as he was willing to come speak at their rallies.

Chapter 4: Find Your Niche
How hard could it be? Jackson's a black conservative, for heaven's sake. In politics he's a rare creature. But it turns out he wasn't rare enough to get speaking engagements by merely announcing his existence.

"Black conservatism has been around a long time," says Minta, the Wash. U. professor. "It's the same argument [as modern conservatism]: You need to be self-sufficient and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. In the late 1800s, Booker T. Washington was telling people, 'Work hard, go into business, don't worry about social or political equality, we don't need federal programs — we don't need anything.'"

Until the 1930s, the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and emancipation and black equality, while the Democratic Party was the party of the Ku Klux Klan. (Martin Luther King Jr. was said to have been a Republican, though Minta says there's no evidence King ever voted.) That changed during the Great Depression, when Franklin Roosevelt's relief programs won over many African Americans to the Democrat side, and the process was completed when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which sent the segregationist "Dixiecrats" fleeing into the arms of the Republicans.

Jackson learned about the nineteenth-century Republican Party from a history book he stumbled across at military school. He was stunned. Or as he puts it: "I got to see what those suckers had lied to me about over time." He took this as evidence that the Republican Party was the party that really cared about blacks even though, as Minta points out, the philosophy of the Republicans of a century ago has little to do with the philosophy of Republicans today. Jackson and his fellow black conservatives continue to blame the Democrats — particularly black Democratic leaders — for continuing to "enslave" the African American population by making them dependent on social programs and teaching them that they are victims.

"I looked at a video of Al Sharpton's 'Reclaim the Dream' rally," says Lloyd Marcus, an Orlando-based black conservative who wrote "The American Tea Party Anthem," the theme song of the Tea Party Express. "It was Al Sharpton and a bunch of civil-rights dinosaurs leading a procession of college kids singing 'We Shall Overcome.' It was like an episode of The Twilight Zone! What is this, 1950? It's absurd. They don't know what they're singing about. They came in $40,000 cars wearing $250 tennis shoes. It's the typical race baiting Democrats do to convince blacks they are victims in America. They are not."

Black conservatives argue that most African Americans are really like them and just don't know it because they've been in the habit of voting Democrat for so long.

"African Americans are largely religious Christians who are pro-life and believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman," asserts Princella Smith, who this year ran as a Republican for an open congressional seat in Arkansas. "But their voting trends are opposite their religion. I'm young, black and female, and I'm expected to vote a certain way. I'm never supposed to look across the aisle and have complex feelings. Was every white man supposed to vote for John McCain?"

"Rap music is fiscally conservative!" says Jackson. "It's all, 'I made this money; now you got your hand in my pocket.' It's like Flavor Flav said: 'I got mine, now leave me alone, and you get yours.'"

So maybe black conservatism isn't so illogical after all. But when an event organizer is looking for a speaker, why pick Kevin Jackson instead of Princella Smith or Lloyd Marcus? Or why not try for a really big name like Thomas Sowell, the right's equivalent to Henry Louis Gates Jr.?

Last November Jackson found himself in precisely that quandary. He had no income. His book was out, but nobody was buying it. He needed to reinvent himself. Then it hit him: People don't want to be lectured to, they want to be entertained.

"If you're going to be taken seriously, people have to see you as an entertainer," he explains. "Thomas Sowell has no humor at all. He understands economic theory — he's forgotten more about economic theory than Obama ever knew — but the likelihood of me surpassing him is pretty good, because I'm funny."

Thus was born Jackson's dream of becoming the next Jon Stewart — whose show, as he points out, is where many young liberals get their news. Or maybe the next Dave Chappelle, only his sketches would be more political.

And there is, you have to admit, a void that could be filled. Conservatives have not generally been known for their sense of humor. "Conservatives have made the mistake of being a little edgy and a little bit crabby and screechy about their point of view," says Jamie Allman. "Kevin is able to present his views with a smile and a wink and a sense of irony, not meanness."

Jackson had a lot of ideas. "I've got this bit called the 'White Guilt Power Plant,'" he says. "We use liberal Code Pink words to provoke white guilt, and then we attach them to a wire, and it powers black neighborhoods."

But to execute it, to turn it into something somebody would actually want to watch, he'd need some help.

Chapter 5: Make a Name for Yourself — And Protect It
All of the members of Jackson's team tell nearly the same story of how they came to work for him. It goes something like this:

The team member (usually white, usually sharing Jackson's belief that the black community has been screwed by its liberal leaders but unable to speak up without appearing racist) finds the Black Sphere online, either through a Web search for "black conservative" or because he or she has seen Jackson on TV, and reads Jackson's blog entries.

Inspired, the team member sends Jackson an e-mail. Jackson responds with a phone call, which lasts several hours and uncovers some skill — writing, say, or radio engineering — that could help Jackson spread his message. Initially all these people are volunteers. Eventually, as Jackson senses that their projects might yield some money, he begins paying them on a freelance basis.

None of them has been working for Jackson longer than a year. Though most of them live in places other than St. Louis, Jackson keeps close tabs on them via phone and Internet, calling as late as midnight or as early as 5 a.m. They don't seem to mind. "He's a perfectionist," says Robbin Frazho, a graphic artist who's working to get Jackson speaking engagements on the conservative-college circuit. "Everything is clean and in order and aboveboard. I love that about him."

The adoration verges on messianic — a favor Jackson repays by closely monitoring his staffers' interaction with the press. The man has an image to protect, particularly after the Loudon dustup.

"It was unfortunate there was so much badmouthing early on," Jamie Allman says of the spat. "It was one reason I delayed having him on the air." Like everyone else in Jackson's orbit, Allman clams up when pressed for details. "It's like high school: people getting catty, talking negatively," he says. "I never got that from Kevin. I try to keep a healthy distance from that Peyton Place thing going on within the grass-roots movement."

Tucked safely behind a screen of his supporters, Jackson occasionally needles his enemies via the Twitter equivalent of spitballs. Sometimes they're aimed at people he knows — like Loudon — but more often they zero in on people whose attention he wants to attract: better-known counterparts on the left such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Marc Lamont Hill, a self-described hip-hop intellectual who once worked at FOX News and is now a professor at Columbia University.

"I've never read his work," Hill claims. "I disagree with his general principles. He has delusions of grandeur. That's the sense I get anyway, based on his attack. He wants to draw attention by attacking people and waiting for a response."

Responds Jackson: "I have zero interest in him except for spanking him in public. Marc Lamont Hill may be more well known, but in a year he'll be seeking me out."

Mostly Jackson has been seeking attention through more direct channels. Thanks to his team, the Black Sphere has grown from a homely blog into a professional-looking website. He has made it a point to never say no to any media request, even if he finds himself in the demoralizing situation of speaking to a mostly empty parking lot (and a female George Washington) in Tinley Park. At next week's rally, he may have an audience of 3,000.

Sometimes that can-do spirit pays off. One day this past March, Jackson debated with MSNBC anchor David Shuster whether Tea Partiers had vandalized Democratic campaign offices and spat on members of the Congressional Black Caucus. To an unbiased observer, the exchange appeared inconclusive, with Jackson and Shuster spending most of the three minutes shouting over one another, demanding proof of the Tea Party's innocence (Shuster) or guilt (Jackson).

Nonetheless, video of the interview went viral, and conservative websites heralded Jackson as a hero who dared to speak truth to the power of the mainstream media. The video clip still has a place of honor on the Black Sphere homepage.

Lately Jackson has been taking on other projects that link his name with those of better-known black conservatives like Alan Keyes, once Barack Obama's opponent in the 2004 Illinois Senate race, now a conservative agitatior. Three months ago both took part in the National Black Conservative Press Conference, a media event organized by Lloyd Marcus to publicly refute the NAACP's accusations that the Tea Party is racist. Jackson and Keyes also serve on the board of Break the Bonds of Tyranny, an organization that raises money to support black conservatives running for office.

But his biggest coup to date came when he secured a fellowship at the Robert J. Dole Institute. Unlike its namesake, the institute declares itself proudly bipartisan, and every semester it invites two fellows, one liberal, one conservative, to lead political study groups for students and interested members of the community. This fall Jackson takes possession of the institute's wood-paneled classroom on alternate Tuesdays to discuss the history of black conservatism in America.

Jackson learned of the fellowship from (naturally) an admirer, the institute's facilities director, Lawrence Bush. Impressed by the Black Sphere, Bush suggested Jackson apply. Institute director Bill Lacy considers Jackson's course outline one of the most complete he has ever seen.

On a brilliant Tuesday afternoon in early October, Jackson and his guest, Princella Smith, start a discussion of women's issues, which veers off into a defense of black conservatism in general. The audience numbers eleven, a mix of students, middle-aged white men and two black women, one of whom, it later emerges, is running for the Lawrence school board.

"The scariest thing in politics right now is the emergence of the black conservatives," Jackson tells them. "We're teaching people, we're telling them: 'You can think for yourself.'"

The academic setting gives weight to the pronouncement. The black women nod. A few of the students jot down notes. Before they leave, the institute's librarian snaps a photo of Jackson and Smith standing in front of a giant stained-glass American flag in the lobby, which overlooks the glass cases containing memorabilia of Bob Dole's long and storied political career.

Chapter 6: Build Your Own Media
There was a time when, for Jackson, a call from Glenn Beck was like a miracle.

"I was visiting my grandmother when the ACORN-prostitution thing hit," he remembers. "My cell phone doesn't get reception at my grandmother's house. The phone never rings. But this time it rang. And a couple of days later I was on Beck."

Lately he has grown tired of waiting for the 4 a.m. calls from Beck and his ilk. Jamie Allman tried to get Jackson his own show on KFTK, but the only slots available were on the weekend, when Jackson tends to be on the road, traveling to Tea Parties. So Jackson started his own radio program on the Black Sphere, which features a lot of riffing on the stupidity of liberalism. He has also written an entire TV pilot's worth of sketches; some are posted on the Black Sphere but have yet to go viral.

During this past year, several conservatives have decided to get into the TV business. Kelsey Grammer, erstwhile star of Frasier, recently launched the Right Network. Also this past summer, Tea Party HD began offering a player widget and syndicated content that bloggers and webmasters can download to their own sites.

While Jackson still aspires to a show on a mainstream network, Teachable Moments, a series of animated shorts depicting little-known events in black history, is already running on Tea Party HD, and he's working on his comedic news show, ENN: Emancipation News Network. (Slogan: "This time, even the whites get free.") A new project will launch on the network later this month, though Jackson is reluctant to reveal details.

"More Americans agree with what we have to say," says Tony Loiacono, a former ad executive and founder of Tea Party HD. "Soon you will find satire and lampooning the left as common as people lampooning the right. It wasn't OK to lampoon President Obama until about six months ago, but then the country shifted. Leno was doing it, Letterman; the guys on Saturday Night Live are lampooning him like they did with Sarah Palin."

Loiacono sees Jackson at the forefront of the lampoon movement. "He's a writer, an actor, a thought-provoking creative guy," Loiacono says. "He's immensely talented."

Not that Jackson harbors illusions about his acting skills. "I try to make my videos a little cheesy," he says. "The cheese factor makes them fun. I'm not Denzel Washington; I'm not gonna win any Emmys." All he wants, he says, is for his skits to be seen.

Perhaps Tom Schlegel, who writes most of Jackson's comedy sketches, best sums up his boss' ambitions. "Kevin," says Schlegel, "wants to be a king of all media."

Chapter 7: How Far Can You Go?
Nobody, not even Jackson, is sure where he'll be a year from now. He recently began charging for his speeches. (His rates top out at $3,000.) "I'll still have to speak a lot to replace my previous income and keep myself above water," he says. "I'm not Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck." So far he has collected $7,000 from donations to the Black Sphere, but nearly half of that came from a single family.

Some team members believe he'll run for office one day. So does Princella Smith. "You'd be refreshing," she tells Jackson over dinner after the Dole Institute session.

"I'm not running," Jackson insists.

Smith looks unpersuaded. "You could be convinced."

Others see Jackson making a mark in the public sphere, if not as an officeholder. "His talents should be used in a more broad way than as a candidate for office," says Jackson's sound engineer, Dave Perkins. "It's a waste of time and energy. He's better than that."

"I see him as a conservative Tavis Smiley," says Jamie Allman, referring to the popular PBS talk-show host. "With race you really have to be careful. It's a bad topic for talk radio — it's so incendiary, and it's so easy to be misunderstood. White people talking about race is even worse. Kevin doesn't go on and throw every person who's black under the bus. He doesn't belittle black people to make himself look better. It's a real skill and a sign of real intelligence and a sign of good character."

"Kevin's a very bright guy and has a lot of potential," says Bill Lacy. "He's a marketing guy. He's always thinking about how to improve his points and get his ideas across. If the country got straightened out, I could see him going back into business and making a lot of money."

Whatever Jackson's future holds, the Tinley Park rally makes it clear he has charisma to spare. Just before he's about to go onstage, a tall black man approaches.

"I know you!" he cries. "I friended you on Facebook. You are inspiring! I saw you beat Shuster on MSNBC. You made me go out and get an education. Two years ago I knew nothing about politics. I was a Kool-Aid drinker for Barack Obama."

Now the man, whose name is Les Moore, has an iPod full of conservative videos downloaded from YouTube.

Moore listens intently to Jackson's speech, then wanders Tinley Park's downtown in search of an ATM so he can purchase a copy of The Big Black Lie. After getting his book signed and having his picture taken with Jackson, he lingers with two white men at Jackson's table, discussing Obama's weakness of character, the possibility that evolution is a piece of propaganda dispersed by the left and potential Tea Party candidates for 2012.

"I've been voting since 1970, and I've never had so much fun," declares Chuck Cheesman, one of the white men, who says he has been out of work for a year and a half.

"I agree," says Jackson. "Jon Stewart said after the election that there was less to laugh at. I saw lots to laugh about."

"I can't say that," says Cheesman, "'cause then I'd be a racist."

"You should be laughing more," Jackson tells him. "When you lampoon the craziness of their ideas, that's when you win. If you want to discuss it, you've lost."

Cheesman looks at Jackson in wonder. "You exist!" he says. "The media told us you didn't exist!"

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