By Raynard Jackson
Later today, President Obama has his first meeting with the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. There is an untold story here that has been brewing quietly. Obama’s relationship with the caucus has been strained at best and indifferent at worse. He took a lot of heat from CBC members because, as a U.S. senator, he was not more engaged with them, especially in the area of fundraising. This relationship and how it’s handled could go a long way in determining how successful President Obama’s term is.
Membership of the CBC is by far mostly liberal to very liberal. Of its 44 members, you may have 5 or so, who are considered centrist or very slightly right of center. The group is chaired by one of the most liberal members of Congress, Barbara Lee from California.
In the meeting today with President Obama, the group is going to attempt to get the president to adopt a more leftist agenda. They made it perfectly clear that they were not happy with Sen. Judd Gregg’s nomination to be commerce secretary (he later withdrew his name from consideration). The CBC feels Obama “owes” them because of the support he received from the Black community (96%). But, there is no proven causation. As a matter of fact, most members of the CBC supported other candidates for president. In raw political terms, Obama could make the argument that he won inspite of them.
The CBC does not think Obama has enough Blacks in his administration. They have never stated what positions and numbers would satisfy them. Neither have they clearly stated what they want from the administration in terms of policy.
Strategically, considering the mess Obama inherited, is it better to defer on certain expectations and wait for a better opportunity or do you push for your most cherished policy items now. That is the challenge facing the CBC.
Obama must convince the CBC that now is not the time to lurch to the left. Of course they will scoff at this. Thus, the fireworks will begin. I think the administration has learned its lesson from giving House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, too much latitude in crafting the stimulus package. Her influence was the singular reason for no Republican support. Pelosi and the CBC are political soul mates, thus were generally satisfied with the spending bill.
After the meeting with President Obama, you will hear all the expected niceties from those in attendance, but within a day, their true feelings will begin to leak out as anonymous quotes in the media. With Obama’s asendency, there is a new sheriff within the Black community and those knocked off their perches are not happy.
You have not heard from the “old guard” within the radical leftist civil rights community—Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Andy Young, etc. They have all but disappeared from the political landscape.
In this regards, Obama has the playing field all to himself. Obama has proven to be a pragmatist more than an ideologue. This is anathema to the CBC and this friction is going to be problematic in the future.
The House in general and the CBC in particular are pushing very strongly to get Obama to govern from the left. But he realizes that the country is not there, so how far is he willing to go to be pragmatic?
The bigger question for the CBC is, what happens if Obama is not liberal enough for them and their agenda? What tools do they have to force or pressure the administration into compliance? The administration has more than enough Democratic votes to pass legislation in the House without any votes from members of the CBC.
During the meeting today with the CBC, what happens if the president makes clear to them that he won the election? Then what? I would venture to say that if Black America had to choose between Obama and the CBC, there is no doubt that they would support the president. So, what leverage does the CBC hold if Obama governs as a pragmatist?
I don’t think President Obama is going to go out and seek a fight with members of the CBC, but they should have a plan in place as to how they will extract policy considerations from him in a game of political hard ball. Will they demand “purity” in terms of policy or will they accept the political reality that they will have to also be pragmatists?
It is great to have our first Black president. This is a monumental achievement for our country. But now Blacks must demonstrate the ability to act strategically, not emotionally. This is were the struggle for “Black Power” will take place. I am not sure the CBC has matured to this level yet. Until they do, “Black Power” will remain a nice refrain from the 1960s; full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a D.C.-based political consulting/government affairs firm. You can reach him at: Raynard@raynardjackson.com and website at: http://www.raynardjackson.com/