It seems that the Congressional Black Caucus has a bone to pick with President Barack Obama. The 43-member group recently agreed to boycott a vote on a financial overhaul measure
as a sign of protest toward the Obama Administration. The bill easily passed, but Rep. Maxine Waters made it clear that the caucus could cause trouble for future Democratic bills by voting with the Republicans. The protest was in response to what the CBC considers to be a blatant disregard for African American issues
by the Obama Administration.
In response to the recent actions by the CBC, I only have one thing to say: Great move.
While I applaud the Congressional Black Caucus decision to stand tough when dealing with the Obama Administration, this move is not without it's problems. As the CBC swims into the dangerous realm of critiquing President Obama, a few points should remain clear: 1) The CBC is not attempting to tarnish Barack Obama's presidency. By standing strong, they are helping him to do his job more effectively:
In politics, only squeaky wheels get oiled. Representative Maxine Waters has become Obama's new Jeremiah Wright, as she has made the Obama Administration uncomfortable by asking all of the really tough questions and calling for Presidential accountability. The problem is that unlike Jeremiah Wright, President Obama can't get rid of Maxine Waters, who is an entrenched figure in national politics. Waters, as well as Rep. John Conyers, understands that if you don't negotiate tough on Capitol Hill, you are going to get ignored. Thus far, the president has largely dismissed nearly all concerns of the African American community, in large part because he knows that black people
are never going to complain about his performance. Barack Obama could join the Ku Klux Klan and African Americans would still give him a pass. By holding the president accountable, the CBC is doing its job of ensuring that its black constituency is near the top of the president's list of priorities, since he has thus far spent his time catering to those who hate him the most. George Bush was a terrible president, but at least he took care of his friends. 2) The move by the Congressional Black Caucus brings a huge risk of backlash:
There are many in the African American community
who've made the horribly inaccurate comparison of Barack Obama to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Although he is certainly a king in his own right, President Obama is NOT Martin Luther king. While white Americans have started to go after President Obama
, African Americans have stood firm and quiet, with approval ratings consistently above 90 percent. Adding fuel to the fire, Dr. Wilmer Leon
, a prominent Political Scientist at Howard University, questioned the motives of the CBC in challenging President Obama.
"Where were their 'warning shots' during the Bush II administration when Americans need their voices in protest of the war?" asks Dr. Leon, host of the Sirius/XM radio show, "On with Leon." "Where was the CBC when America needed their warning shots in support of a call to impeach President Bush, VP Cheney, Powell, Rice and the others who lied to the American people about the need to invade Iraq? This current act appears to be a weak attempt at making themselves relevant."
While one can argue that African Americans are far more concerned about keeping jobs than protesting war, Dr. Leon reminds us of one important point: Politicians usually have an ulterior motive, and most of them can't be trusted completely. This does not, however, imply that the CBC is not fighting for the African American community in this initiative.
3) The Congressional Black Caucus should be more concerned about President Obama's advisers than they are about the president himself: I've written in the past that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke
is embarrassingly ignorant about the subtleties of African American economic problems
(as are most of the so-called leading scholars in my field, Finance, who grew up with silver spoons in their mouths). Lawrence Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, has been accused by his former Harvard colleagues of being both racist and sexist (he showed tremendous disrespect toward Dr. Cornel West, a man who greatly exceeds him in both achievements and intellect). Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's Chief of Staff, has created a great deal of bad blood with the CBC and has shown favoritism toward white conservatives, while ignoring African Americans for many key staff positions. Barack Obama is not the problem: It is those around him who might ultimately bring him down. 4) The CBC must remember that Obama could be their best bet:
By possibly undermining a president who is already under fire, the CBC takes the risk of having a Sarah Palin or John McCain to deal with the next time around (McCain has lived this long, so why not?). This makes President Obama a pretty appealing choice, and the only question at this point is whether Obama would have been better for the black community than, say, Hillary Clinton. That question gets more and more difficult to answer with each passing week. When it comes to race, Obama has only been willing to openly (and sloppily) address the scandal with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates. Even that incident was based on elitist cronyism and not a genuine regard for the African American community. I am hard pressed to believe that either Gates or Obama shows much concern for the average black man and woman on the street, since there is little political advantage to supporting the weakest political and economic demographics.
In their fight with Obama, the Congressional Black Caucus should keep pressing, not out of hate for the president, but out of love for their constituents. If the rest of America had to deal with the horrible unemployment rates of the African American community, they would be rioting in the streets. But for some reason, black people believe that it is our job to suffer in silence and to accept whatever scraps we can get. We must remember the truth: if you don't squeak in Washington, you get no oil. Black people should not be second class citizens, so our politicians should be squeaking loudly.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.