Monday, December 14, 2009

The CBC vs The H.N.I.C.

It's been long debated whether or not President Obama, by virtue of being the first black President, "owes" something specifically to Black America. Critics on both sides of the aisle of Negro Thought have made compelling arguments.

There are those who say Obama "owes" us nothing, as he's the President of all America, not the President of East St. Louis. Anything he does to improve the fortunes of all Americans will benefit Black America as a result. Some statistics suggest that Obama could have won last Fall even if a not single black person had voted. By catering to blacks, he's ensuring himself a single term because he'll alienate whites in the process.

Others say Obama has a greater responsibility to the community he comes from than a typical politician might. After all, it was the support of black folks that put him over the top in the Democratic nomination. Without us, he'd still be in the Senate right now. In theory, Obama should have a greater understanding, and thus, greater responsibility to help cure much of what ails urban America. And as for putting himself in political danger should he show preference to one group, nobody has said anything of the sort when he's specifically addressed Jews, gays, and appointed a Wise Latina to the SCOTUS. In fact, those were all seen as savvy moves that catered to various constituencies that helped get him in office.

Naturally, I fall somewhere in the middle. While I certainly don't expect Obama to cater to our every whim, reality is, I'd like to see him follow through on some of his campaign promises in time. His pledge to implement smaller scale versions of the tremendously successful Harlem Children's Zone in inner cities nationwide would be an ideal signature initiative with lasting effects for generations to come. Sadly, having spent so much political (and fiscal) capital on so many other issues in his first year, the likelihood of this coming to fruition over the next 3, or 7 years, is slim.

That said, I know the man's got a game to play, and that game entails keeping white voters on his side should he hope to be re-elected. Anything seen as preferential to blacks is going to alienate white voters, as Gates-gate so definitively proved. People voted for a postracial candidate, and postracial he must remain if he wants to get anything accomplished.

The fine folks at the Congressional Black Caucus have long been accused of doing little of substance other than throw any amazing week of parties each September. So, now that they had the gall to stand up to Obama and demand some tangible payoff for the communities they represent, many folks are calling them out.
Call it the $6 billion boycott.

By boycotting a key House committee vote last week and threatening to abandon support for banking regulations, members of the Congressional Black Caucus got $4 billion added to a Wall Street regulation bill and $2 billion to a proposed House jobs bill in spending they sought for African American communities.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., this week inserted $3 billion to the legislation to provide low-interest loans to unemployed homeowners in danger of foreclosure. He added $1 billion for neighborhood revitalization programs.

The money would come out of the $700 billion financial rescue fund.

“For those of us who walked out, it was absolutely essential that we have parts of that legislation directed toward helping people who have been left out of all of these bailouts,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., one of 10 black caucus members in the Financial Services Committee, said.

The proposed jobs bill targets $1 billion from infrastructure spending for public housing repairs. It also provides $1 billion for an affordable housing trust fund.

With 40 members in the House, the Congressional Black Caucus can be a potent force.

“Since last September, we have continuously voted for bailout and reform for the very institutions that created this devastation, without properly protecting the African-American community or small business,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said on the day of the boycott. “That stops today.”

Among the caucus’ demands were greater assistance for minority-owned auto dealerships and banks that lend in African-American communities and more government advertising in minority-owned media.
Let's be clear about a couple of things: going to bat for black media (aka: Cathy Hughes) and black auto dealerships ain't the best of ideas. Why should these companies specifically get preferential treatment when their competitors are going down in flames? It makes no sense to me, and I'm glad no money was spent on this compromise.

On the other hand, it's outlandish to call these folks sellouts for asking for some direct benefit to those most effected by the recession in the very communities they represent. I don't think anyone can promise that the $1B allocated for upgrades to public housing will create jobs for people in those communities rather than some out of state firm that hires a bunch of illegal immigrants, but I give them credit for getting something done.

Many are saying this was a direct attack on Obama, and that these folks wouldn't be threatening to hijack the President's signature regulatory legislation if McCain had won. Bullcrap.

Do ya'll forget the CBC making a tearful plea to to object to the 2001 election outcome on the floor of the House? Bumrushing the White House days after GW Bush took office? The calls on Bush to provide assistance to Katrina victims? Despite whatever revisionist history folks might be recalling right now, reality is, they (despite limited influence and limited results) held Bush accountable, and should do the same to Obama. If not, what good are they doing any of us? Besides, the man did make promises.

I know it's easy to look at all the garish wigs and dookie braids, the civil rights era vernacular, and the generally out of touch demeanor of many CBC members and write them off. Let's face it, most CBC members look like HBCU Chancellors, and nobody likes an HBCU Chancellor. But they shouldn't give Obama a free pass "just cause' he Black", and neither should we.

This might be the first (and last?) time I've ever written these words on this blog, but well done CBC, well done.

Question: Should the CBC be supporting Obama or challenging them just as they would any other President? Could they have gotten more out of this than they did?

After walkout, black caucus gets what it wanted [AP]

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