The Democrats hope for – but are doing next to nothing
to achieve – victory at the polls in November. Should that unearned
triumph occur in the U.S. House of Representatives, African Americans
will ascend to key committee positions, potentially pivotal to national
policy and budgetary direction. But what will they do with these
new franchises? Let’s not be fooled by the corporate media’s (and
corporate Black folks’) framing of the contest in November as simply
which party controls what committee of congress. Majority party
status means little if Black congresspersons continue to act as
extensions of a pliant, cautious Democratic leadership that is not
committed to fundamental domestic and geopolitical transformation.
The crisis in African American leadership at the congressional
level cannot be resolved outside the dynamics of the Black body
politic. A Democratic victory in 2006 does not necessarily translate
to a Black victory unless Black Democrats stand for something. Black
power can only result from Black demands – and, at present, Blacks
are demanding nothing from the Democratic Party.
We must not mistake virtual electoral success
for the actuality of power to affect real social change.
Democratic triumph and Black success are not synonymous.
Just because Republicans can be counted on to equate Black power
and Democratic power, doesn’t mean it is the same thing. We must
stop buying into the liars’ racist prevarications, which only serve
others who are supposed to be – but are not – our friends. Republican
racism scared Black folks so badly during the Bill Clinton era that
some fools anointed him the “first Black President.” This fear-frenzy
contributed to the neutering of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)
and the Black body politic at-large, from which we have not yet
recovered. The same theatrics are scripted for this election year.
If Blacks buy into the narrative, African American political power
will once again be subordinated to white Democratic ambitions. As
usual, Republicans lead in this dance.
Anticipating that the Iraq war and a tsunami of GOP
scandals might allow the popular Democratic tide to seize
control of the House and – an even more remote possibility,
the Senate – Republicans resort to their tried-and-true default
tactic: race baiting. The GOP has already launched “fear of the
Black menace” as the sub-text of their mid-term election defense
strategy. The bogeymen are John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI),
the longest serving Black member in the House, who would assume
chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, and Charles
Rangel (D-NY), the second most senior
Black member and heir to chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee.
Other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, such
as Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL)
would also rise to influential positions, should the Democrats prevail
in November. Republicans flash pictures of Black faces threatening
to invade high congressional places, hoping to set off a reflexive,
white racist electoral reaction. John Conyers is depicted as a man
intent on using the Judiciary Committee chairmanship to impeach
George Bush – a direct Black threat to white power.
Although BC is certain that Conyers
would dearly love to impeach
George W. Bush – just as Conyers contributed to the demise of Richard
Nixon in 1974 – it is not only the Republican majority that
stands in his way. Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi demands
quiet and calm waters for what she thinks will be smooth sailing
to conquest of the House. With Republicans determined to paint Democrats
in blackface in order to induce a Pavlovian response from the white
electorate, Pelosi has ordered the Congressional Black Caucus as
a body to shut up. Keep a low profile. Don’t make waves. Wait until
after the election. Maybe then….
Even such a formidable mover and shaker as John Conyers,
whose 41-year cumulative progressive legislative record dwarfs all
others in the House, could not resist Leader Nancy Pelosi’s warnings
that he must delete the “I”-word – impeachment – from his vocabulary,
so as not to stampede the white Republican hordes. “John Conyers
is an enthusiastic advocate. I am the leader,” Pelosi told Tim Russert
of Meet The Press on May 7. “Our caucus will decide where
we go” on impeachment. Meaning, she will decide.
Conyers acquiesced. In a May 18 column for the Washington
Post, he wrote:
“…rather than seeking impeachment,
I have chosen to propose comprehensive oversight of these alleged
abuses. The oversight I have suggested would be performed by a select
committee made up equally of Democrats and Republicans and chosen
by the House speaker and the minority leader….
“At the end of the process,
if – and only if – the select committee, acting on a bipartisan
basis, finds evidence of potentially impeachable offenses, it would
forward that information to the Judiciary Committee.”
Bush is the “Decider” – Pelosi is the “Leader-er.” But
there can be no white leader of Black people, in or out of the congress.
Pelosi’s victories are not ours. She is assuring Republicans and
corporate America that she can keep the Black folks in check. However,
in a nation in which Blacks are the only dependably progressive
electorate, every diminution of African American political agency
and independence weakens what remains of the progressive movement.
Even if Democrats achieve a slim majority in the House
in November, Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid will
not willingly unhook the leash on Black Democrats and other progressives.
There will always be some reason to placate the ultimately implacable
Republicans and their fellow travelers in the Democratic Party.
Our time will never come, unless we seize it.
A New Chairperson
Right after the Labor Day weekend, in September, the
Congressional Black Caucus holds its 36th Annual
Legislative Conference, the year’s premier African American
social – if not political – event. Since its founding in 1969, the
CBC has grown from 13 to 42 members of the House and one senator.
The Black delegation on Capitol Hill is much bigger, but far from
better. No longer can the CBC claim to be the “conscience of the
congress.” As Leutisha Stills of the CBC Monitor reported
in the May
18 issue of BC, the Black Caucus “functioned
quite well” on the basis of a progressive consensus during most
of the first three decades of its existence. Those days are over.
A growing faction of corporate-bought members, including
Artur Davis (AL), David Scott (GA), Harold Ford, Jr. (TN), Albert
Wynn (MD), William Jefferson (LA), Sanford Bishop (GA), and Gregory
Meeks (NY), often votes with Republicans on key, “bright line” issues.
(See CBC Monitor Report
Card, February 2, 2006.) Although CBC chairman Mel Watt’s (NC)
personal voting record ranks him among the CBC Monitor’s “Honor
Society,” he has done nothing to stem the growing rightward defections.
Watt only jumps when Nancy Pelosi demands that he impose discipline
on progressive CBC members – in particular, Georgia Rep.
Cynthia McKinney. As Leutisha Stills wrote:
“Acting more as the Black ‘Whip’
for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi than as a facilitator of Black
influence on Capitol Hill, Watt has relentlessly sought to quash
all Black deviation from the party line. Since Democratic leadership
is intent on saying and doing nothing that could draw media attention
away from assorted Republican failures and corruption, Watt has
played the role of ‘silencer’ of the CBC.”
This year’s CBC Legislative Weekend will be co-chaired
by Barbara Lee (CA) and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (MI). Both are
progressive lawmakers, especially Rep. Lee, who was the only
member of the House to vote against giving President Bush broad
“war on terror” authority in September, 2001. Lee is also co-chair
of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – Nancy Pelosi’s old slot,
before her rightward turn as Minority Leader. According to The
Hill newspaper, both Lee and Kilpatrick are actively campaigning
to succeed Mel Watt as chair of the CBC in the next two sessions
Whoever replaces Watt, it won’t be a minute too soon.
Should the Democrats win the House, the newly empowered Black committee
chairpersons will need an active and non-subservient Black Caucus
to back them up, to keep Nancy Pelosi’s cold hand from strangling
progressive initiatives. Most importantly, the progressive majority
of the CBC must be allowed to give voice to their political will.
The old system of consensus no longer works, due to the infestation
of corporate money which has created a bought faction of the CBC.
The next chairperson of the CBC should endorse “sense of the caucus”
procedures that would remove the bought-out faction’s power to veto
the majority’s wishes. Only then will the Caucus be enabled to take
a stand on vital economic and foreign policy issues – to speak for
Black America as a whole.
The CBC as a body will not regain respect until it frees
itself from the machinations of white congressional leadership and
the dead weight of its corporate-owned minority. From our perspective
at BC, the reclamation of the CBC’s role as the
“conscience of the congress” is more important than reclaiming the
House for the Democrats. Above all else, we must reclaim our own
house, and speak truth to power.
Glen Ford and Peter Gamble are writing a book to
be titled, Barack Obama and the Crisis in Black Leadership.