George Curry, Afro, October 4, 2009
The annual Self-Congratulation Political Weekend in Washington, D.C., formally known as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference and informally known as CBC Weekend, is over.
But after a series of feel-good panel discussions, members of Congress darting in and out of rooms, and even a speech by President Barack Obama–with requisite non-stop partying thrown in for good measure–the true needs of most African Americans are no closer to becoming a reality than before Black political junkies descended on the nation’s capital for the gathering.
To be fair, there is much to celebrate. The CBC has grown from 13 members when it was established in 1971 to 42 numbers, not counting “Dollar Bill” Jefferson, who is on his way to a federal prison.
House Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) is the third-ranking Democrat, four African Americans chair important House committees and 17 head subcommittees, and a former CBC member is now president of the United States.
However, before you start singing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” let’s put things in perspective. When you add one African-American senator to the 42 House members, including two who can’t vote except in committee, that’s only 43 out of 535 members of the House and Senate, which is 8 percent.
It sounds good to say that the president is a former member of the CBC, though he wasn’t all that active and never took on a leadership role in the caucus. But the sad truth is that for many reasons, including his need to be president of “all people,” Barack Obama is much more moderate than most members of the liberal Congressional Black Caucus. Consequently, he is more willing to make compromises that may, in the end, not serve the best interest of most African Americans.
That does not mean he isn’t concerned about issues that are paramount to Blacks. Instead, that simply means that he is a politician doing what politicians do best–compromising.
But being sensitive and using the right language is no substitute for direct action. Having an African-American president and having a record number of Blacks holding leadership positions in Congress is meaningless if, in the end, they can’t bring about real change for those who need it the most.