A crack has opened in the historical Black continuum.
2005 will be recorded as the year that the Congressional Black
Caucus (CBC) came apart at the seams, the victim of an unprecedented
rightwing money and media offensive in Black America, rank treachery
by a hardcore handful of Caucus members, and the indiscipline and
gross irresponsibility of many more.
The CBC’s collective failure to stand for its
constituents and the struggle-birthed legacy of African Americans
is also, ironically,
a product of historical Black political practice and instinct:
the imperative toward unity, which has up to now been the salvation
and defining characteristic of the African American polity. Black
progressives, seeking unity above all else, have allowed the Congressional
Black Caucus (and other Black institutions) to be neutered by the
machinations of a small and unrepresentative group of corporate
collaborators who are paid specifically to create the illusion
of vast new fractures in African American public opinion. These
mercenary men and women profit by bearing false witness to their
own constituents’ core beliefs on issues of peace, social and racial
equality, public power vs. corporate domination, elemental fairness
in the marketplace and public sphere, and the struggle to abolish
Having no stake in Black unity – quite the opposite – these turncoats
advertise their deviance from historical Black political thought
and practice, signaling their openness to the enemy’s agenda. Disastrously,
progressive African American politicians, representing the overwhelmingly
progressive Black public, fear to challenge the sell-outs, lest
the veneer of Black unity be tarnished. As a result, the malefactors
are allowed not only free reign to market their treachery, but
are afforded a de facto veto over the CBC’s collective decision-making.
The Congressional Black Caucus has been paralyzed, as if bitten
by a venomous snake.
CBC Chairman Mel Watt (NC), a progressive lawmaker, admitted as
much to Lizz
Brown, talk show host on St. Louis radio station WGNU. Watt
urged Brown not to read too much into the fact that ten of
41 CBC members voted for the Republican bankruptcy bill, since
the Caucus as a whole “did not take a position” on the legislation.
But of course, the Caucus could not take a position on bankruptcy,
if unanimity or near-unanimity were required. Therefore the CBC,
as an institution, sat out a “bright line” vote on an issue of
monumental consequence to their core constituency: the predatory
lender-besieged Black community.
The CBC also disappeared as a political entity in the fight over
repeal of the estate tax, a Republican measure that benefits less than
one-half of one percent of Blacks, weakens the nation’s capacity
to maintain a social safety net for all the rest of us, and reinforces
wealth privilege. Eight Caucus
members sided with the rich, and against their constituents – with
not a hint of sanction from the CBC, which “did not take a position” on
the matter. (See BC, “Black Caucus Losing Cohesion,” April
The next week, the GOP’s bill to subsidize the
world’s richest industry – Big Oil – garnered 11
votes from the Congressional Black Caucus, more than a quarter
of the membership. The energy bill vote marked the third time in
two weeks that the CBC had fractured – institutionally collapsed – in
the face of the most reactionary forces in American and world society:
energy corporations, finance capital, and entrenched, inherited
A total of 15 CBC members voted for one or more of the three Republican
bills. But none violated the consensus of the Caucus, because there
is no such thing, anymore.
CBC members that voted with Republicans
on bankruptcy, the estate tax, and energy:
The CBC defectors on what
were clearly “bright
line” progressive issues total 37 percent of total Caucus membership – including
four who are also members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus
(Cleaver, Jackson-Lee, Clay and Rush). We are experiencing a cataclysmic
collapse of African American electoral leadership, to which progressive
Blacks within and outside the Caucus must respond – or be rendered
irrelevant by their own inaction.
Crime and Punishment
The unfolding implosion of the Congressional Black Caucus as a
coherent voice for progressive politics is commonly bundled into
discussion of the general disarray in
the Democratic Party. It is true that the same corporate forces
are bribing Black, brown and white Democrats, and that the Democratic
Leadership Council acts as a Republican Trojan Horse in the CBC,
the Hispanic Caucus and the Democratic Caucus as a whole. It is
also true that the Congressional Progressive Caucus has been dormant
for years, not having even fully updated its website since
2001. However, the comparisons are seriously overdrawn, because
the Black and white electorates are very different.
There have always been “Dixiecrat” Democrats, “Reagan” Democrats
and “Blue Dog” Democrats among whites. Only a fraction of whites
can be reasonably classified as progressive. But the Black electorate
is positioned overwhelmingly on the left side of the American political
spectrum, with the largest portion resembling “Swedish Social Democrats,” in
the assessment of noted Black social demographer Dr. Michael Dawson.
The collapse of the Congressional Black Caucus is qualitatively
different than the split in the House Democratic Caucus, in that
Black Caucus members who cross political “bright lines” are incontrovertibly
betraying their constituents’ core expectations.
On issues of social justice, fairness in the
marketplace, government intervention in support of the disadvantaged,
redress of historical
Black grievances, and non-aggression against foreign states, African
American public opinion is solid. There are no “red state” Blacks
versus “blue state” Blacks; with only very slight variations, African
Americans agree on core issues – the Black Political Consensus – and
will vote accordingly if they are adequately informed of the choices.
However, since the 2002 election cycle (and,
in Rep. Harold Ford Jr.’s case, since 2000), the corporate money virus has contaminated
Black Democratic leadership. The three “bright line” votes this
month show that the disease has metastasized, infecting lawmakers
who were not previously part of the core rightwing cancer in the
CBC. The prevailing political impunity for crimes against the Black
Political Consensus has produced a cascade effect, in which Caucus
members respond to corporate lobbyists and newly-monied political
minorities in their districts, rather than their core constituents
and historical allies.
There is no crisis in the Black body politic, which has registered
no sea change in opinion; there is a crisis in Black leadership.
Politicians vs. Voters
A good case in point is Rep. William “Lacy” Clay,
son of a former (and progressive) Black congressman from St.
Louis, and buddy of
the contemptible Rep. Harold
Ford, Jr., who is also the son of a former CBC member. Clay
stood with Ford when “Prince Harold” unsuccessfully challenged from
the right Progressive Caucus executive committee member Nancy
Pelosi for leadership of House Democrats, in 2002. Clay is also
a member of the Progressive Caucus, but it is difficult to understand
why, given his vote for the Republican estate tax bill (see graph)
and his decision, this week, to switch his vote on a key abortion
bill. “We have to start being flexible" on issues such as
abortion and gay rights, Clay told the St.
Louis Post-Dispatch. "Now, that's going to alienate some
of my constituents in the pro-choice community. But look, it's
time we start telling these constituency groups, hey, don't be
so rigid in your stance and hold us to such a litmus test that
it costs us seats."
Clay, whose seat is in absolutely no danger
from conservatives, doesn’t want to be held to any discipline
at all, and has joined in the unraveling of the CBC.
The Black body politic does recoil from treachery,
when sufficiently informed. Houston, Texas Black Democratic state
Rep. Ron Wilson,
a 27-year statehouse veteran, supported Republican leaders who
redrew congressional districts to favor the GOP. Wilson’s Black
face in the wrong place stood out like an insult to his constituents,
who replaced him
Cynthia McKinney, a flamboyant progressive,
put the lie to the corporate media and rightwing dictum that,
the more prosperous
Blacks become, the more conservatively they vote. McKinney reclaimed
her congressional seat in a suburban Atlanta district, last year,
with 60 percent of the vote. She’d lost it in 2002, due to a massive
white turnout – although McKinney won at least 83 percent of the
Black vote against a conservative Black opponent. Her district
is the third most affluent in Black America.
There’s nothing wrong with Black voters. The
fault lies with Black leadership, which is more responsive to
money and corporate media
than to their constituents, who are ill-served by Black media and
largely unaware that they are being betrayed. Just as critically, there
is no mechanism to fund progressive challengers who might cauterize
the deep wounds that have been inflicted on the CBC and Black electoral
Show me the money!
Black progressives – and Black voters – desperately need a PAC.
In previous decades, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, although
never lavishly funded, served a useful purpose. But now, with the
Caucus infested with Quislings and freelancers, the CBC PAC’s primary
goal of preserving the seats of incumbents merely feeds the cancer.
The Caucus’s PAC Chairman is none other than Rep. Albert Wynn (MD),
one of the four CBC “Eunuchs
of War” who voted to give George Bush his Iraq War Powers in
2002, and who voted with Republicans on all three “bright line” bills
on bankruptcy, the estate tax, and energy, this month.
There is a hideous logic to Wynn’s chairmanship of the Caucus’s
political funding mechanism. Wynn is the DLC’s point man in the
Caucus. The DLC is, first and foremost, a clearing house for corporate
contributions to the Democratic party – they’re the guys who impose
a business-friendly “litmus test” to candidates and incumbents,
the kind of test that William “Lacy” Clay, of St. Louis, may be
hoping to pass, although he eschews any “litmus tests” from progressive
Wynn shares DLC membership with Harold Ford,
Jr., who aspires to become a U.S. Senator from Tennessee, in
2006. There is little
doubt that Ford is going to get help from the CBC PAC in his ever-rightward
political trajectory. “There has been no formal decision made regarding
Harold Ford's candidacy," Rep. Wynn told FOX
News in March, "but I am confident that the Congressional
Black Caucus PAC would consider him favorably. I anticipate we
will give him as much support as we did Senator [Barack] Obama."
That’s the problem.
No more impunity
It is Black people’s job to clean up our own electoral house,
but it is also white progressives’ obligation to support the fumigation.
Progressives in the CBC, who are still in the great majority, must
act as a body to establish their own PAC whose funding of incumbents
and candidates will be based on affirmation of “bright line” positions
on issues held dear by the Black electorate. We at The Black Commentator
suggest that Representatives John Conyers (MI) and Barbara Lee
(CA), CBC members of impeccable integrity, make the historic plunge
in rejecting the fatal false unity that has paralyzed Black America’s
most prized political institution: the Congressional Black Caucus.
We understand that such a break is painful.
But the charade of Black Caucus unity cannot be allowed to continue,
when the end
result is impunity for those who eagerly join with the enemy in
savaging our blood-won rights. Since 2002, corporate money has
altered the Black political landscape, forever. We can no longer
indulge in “head count” politics, that measure African American
progress by the number of Black faces in high places. The Black
Caucus is not better simply because, at 44 members (with
Illinois Senator Barack Obama), it is bigger than ever. In fact,
the CBC is infinitely worse than when it numbered far less: an
ineffectual skin-group that cannot take a position on “bright line” issues,
and can henceforth be expected to endorse only bland, feel-good
consensus causes that most glad-handing Republicans could embrace.
That’s not what the Black public expects, and
demands. We have faith in our people, and believe that David
Scott, the “Worst
Black Congressperson,” can be defeated in his majority Black
suburban Atlanta district in the Democratic primary by a progressive
armed with only $200,000 – versus a Scott corporate war chest of
up to $1.5 million.
We will never outspend the corporations and
their clients, but Black folks respond when you show the “flag” – when it is clear
that you are on their side – because we have a life and death stake
in politics, and we hate racial treason. It kills us, literally.
It is critically important that the flag be
unfurled, now. All serious studies show that African Americans
are so disaffected
with the Democratic Party that large pluralities and majorities
desire an independent Black political party. These are not voices
from the Right, but from the Left. They warn us that the Black
political class must become unequivocally committed to Black mass
interests, as opposed to their own ambitions, or there will be
a revolt. In the absence of an alternative to the status quo, we
can expect a mass abstention from the electoral process, a phenomenon
that is already quite evident among Black youth.
Progressive Black PAC
The creation of a Progressive Black PAC will
require the drawing of “bright lines” for candidates that seek support. This is a necessary
exercise, which will define the limits of acceptable Black political
behavior. In this era, in which corporate institutions have decreed,
through their heavily funded think tanks, that there is no Black
Political Consensus, it is vital that we reaffirm its existence – and
put our money where our principles are.
The Black Commentator has not asked Representatives
Conyers and Lee if they would take the lead in establishing a
PAC. We put forward their names because – it is what they should
do. There are other candidates who should also enlist themselves
in the fight to defend the Black polity from corporate intrigues
at this frightening juncture in history. But we have no illusions
about the availability of money, and are well aware that African
Americans have little history of involvement in money-politics – outside
of the church.
So let us be frank: the liberal PACs that have
raised many tens of millions of dollars to oppose the Republican
agenda must understand
that they cannot possibly succeed if the Black polity – by far
the most dependably progressive ethnic group – is shattered by
confusion and internal betrayal. They must help kick-start the
Progressive Black PAC. African Americans like John Conyers and
Barbara Lee have labored in the vineyards of democracy for decades,
and should be supported in this crucial project among their own
Those of us who are from the South may remember
an old saying: “I
ain’t fattening no frogs for snakes.” It means we will no longer
invest our hopes, dreams and resources in people whose ambitions
lead them to turn against us.
The Congressional Black Caucus is infested
with frogs. Let’s not
Glen Ford and Peter Gamble are working on a book to be titled,
Barack Obama and the Crisis of Black Leadership.