The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader and two-time presidential candidate, warned Wednesday that Democrats "could hurt themselves substantially, perhaps irreparably, in November" if fallout from the clash between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is not addressed quickly.
Jackson, who has endorsed Obama but who maintains good relations with both Hillary and Bill Clinton, listed three rifts among Democrats that could allow Republicans to win in the general election:
"First, we must not allow people to exacerbate black-Hispanic tensions," Jackson said in a lengthy phone interview from New York. "I think the differences there are exaggerated. You just can't characterize things as Hispanics for Hillary and blacks for Obama."
Black and Hispanic tensions, to whatever extent they exist, may be exacerbated, however, in the Texas primary on March 4, where, due to a complicated delegate-selection process, predominantly black districts have been awarded more delegates than predominantly Hispanic districts.
But Jackson said blacks and Hispanics are "all in one big tent" in America and their political relationship "is very substantial."
Jackson's second warning came over the use of superdelegates, those 795 or so Democratic big shots who are not elected in primaries or caucuses but get to cast a vote at the convention.
Many have predicted a party-splitting crisis if Obama goes into the convention with a majority of delegates earned in primaries and caucuses but that result is overturned by superdelegates voting for Clinton.
"If the superdelegates are substantially out of line with the popular vote, it could very damaging," Jackson said. "There must be some reasonable relationship."
Jackson said the final rift which could prove the most difficult to heal is genuine reconciliation between Obama and Clinton at the Democratic convention in Denver in August.
"The two sides must be able to embrace fervently in Denver and heal campaign wounds," Jackson said, or else, he said, Republicans could win in November.
Jackson pointed out that in 1968, Hubert Humphrey forces and Lyndon Johnson forces "could not heal the wounds of the Vietnam War" and Richard Nixon won the presidency. Jackson also said that in 1980, the forces of Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy "did not warmly embrace" and "they allowed Ronald Reagan to come down the middle" and win the presidency.
Jackson, who praised both Obama and Clinton throughout the interview, sounded very much like a man who was willing to try to bring them together.
"I have certainly talked to both campaigns," Jackson said. "I have urged them that while they have to keep one eye on a hard-fought playoff season, they must also keep one eye on reconciliation for the Super Bowl and the Super Bowl is November."
Last month, Bill Clinton discounted an impending victory by Obama in South Carolina, by saying, "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here."
Some felt, however, the former president was unnecessarily bringing up race by comparing Obama to Jackson. A Washington Post reporter called Bill Clinton's comments a "sour note" and an ABC reporter compared it to "race-baiting."
Jackson told me, however, he was not offended by the remarks, though he recognized that some were.
"To many people that was hurtful," Jackson said, "but I did not read it that way." Jackson said race should not be off the table in political discussion as long as it is done properly.
"I think we must distinguish between race-baiting, which is unacceptable, and the need to address race as a moral dilemma, which has haunted the nation since its very beginning," Jackson said.
I asked Jackson if he thought it was fair for Obama to use the argument that a vote for him as an African-American can make people feel better about themselves and about the nation and send a good signal to the rest of the world.
"Racial justice is the key for the salvation of the nation and that is fair game to discuss; it is a fair message," Jackson said. "Blacks reaching out is not new; white receptivity is new. Barack is reaching out."
Jackson also said that the work that he and others involved in the civil rights movement did in decades past has helped make the current political climate possible.
"I just take some delight in the fact that we knocked down barriers, and now Barack and Hillary are open-field runners," Jackson said. "A healthier, more secure, more mature America is emerging from race and gender shock."