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
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
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,
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:
||Ford Jr. (TN)
||Lacy Clay (MO)
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
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 in 2004.
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,
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 quarters.
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
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 Progressive Black 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 people.
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 fatten
Glen Ford and Peter Gamble are working on a book to be titled, Barack
Obama and the Crisis of Black Leadership.