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March 17, 2010

CBC joins the black insurgency

The small, progressive “we must never stop asking questions” insurgency among black people seems to be growing. There have always been a few blacks with national profiles who have provided critiques of President Obama, but they are in the minority. Though black politicians, media personalities and even academics (including black studies professors who should know better) have been disturbingly silent, a precious few have fought back.

The black community’s greatest “we love Obama no matter what” whipping boy, Tavis Smiley, is taking another beating after he questioned Al Sharpton’s stance that Obama should not “ballyhoo” a black agenda. This came after Sharpton, NAACP President Ben Jealous and Urban League President Marc Morial visited the White House for a meeting on jobs with the president in February. The fact that this crew acquiesced to the idea that Obama should not (or cannot) specifically speak to issues impacting blacks is strange and troubling.

When Smiley said so, he was skewered. After Sharpton attacked Tavis in one the most vehement radio exchanges I’ve heard, Black Agenda Report editor Glen Ford wrote, “Sharpton (was attempting) to send Tavis Smiley into permanent purgatory.” Ironically, many black defenders of Sharpton based their disdain for Smiley on their belief that he is an “opportunist.” Are you serious?! Smiley is an opportunist and Sharpton isn’t? Right.

As of late, though, and under the radar, the black insurgency is spreading into “legitimate” political circles. Since late last year, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has started to ask some hard questions of Obama. Last week, just before members of the CBC went to the White House for a “frank but cordial” meeting on jobs, some CBC members and aides made it clear they felt slighted after Sharpton, Morial and Jealous were granted a meeting before the black politicians received one — even though they had been requesting one for some time. Wait, it gets deeper.

According to a recent Politico.com article, the Obama administration has handled the CBC disrespectfully, and it seems the black lawmakers are getting tired of it. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., bluntly suggested White House officials are “not listening” to black lawmakers. U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., said, “There’s not enough attention to poor (and black) people.” Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., said, “While I respect President Obama, delivering victories for his political future should be the least of our worries on Capitol Hill.”

Beyond that, CBC members have other serious issues with the White House — particularly chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and senior aide Valerie Jarrett. It seems Jarrett consistently cancels lunch plans with the caucus and pays them little attention. But when disrespected CBC members don’t play ball with the administration, they are called on it. Politico reports:

Caucus members were outraged after Jarrett called Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) last summer and pushed him to support the president’s agenda by voting to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conversation quickly grew heated … Obama himself immediately called back to ask why Ellison was giving Jarrett such a hard time, (an) aide said.

Several months later, Conyers said Obama called and accused him of “demeaning” him by criticizing White House polices on health care and Afghanistan. That report didn’t sit well with many African-American lawmakers, aides and lobbyists ...

“Conyers has been in Congress longer than Barack Obama could spell,” said a black strategist close to both the White House and Congress. “If he’s making a complaint, it’s a shot across the bow, and you might want to pay attention to that.”

The CBC has a few problems here. Jarrett and Emanuel obviously don’t give a damn. In addition, Obama has never really had a relationship with the CBC. Even during his term in the Senate, he rarely participated in their caucus events.

Most importantly, the CBC’s black constituents love Obama more than they do the members of Congress who have fought for them for decades … and Obama knows it.

“I think if you look at the polling, in terms of the attitudes of the African-American community, there’s overwhelming support for what we’ve tried to do,” Obama has said.

We’ll see how long that lasts.