The media’s collective tongue could not stop wagging last week about statements made by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) during the “Jobs Initiative” tour run by the Congressional Black Caucus. Waters, who has always been one of the most quotable and colorful members of Congress, responded to the frustration of unemployed African Americans in Detroit by essentially saying two things.
First, that they were just as mad at President Obama as everyone else because they didn’t know what his overall game plan was. And two: That they would go at the president harder if only their Obama love-struck constituents would give them the freedom to do so.
Both of these statements are problematic for several reasons. But the more jarring omission in news coverage deals with what Waters said about the Tea Party movement and the glaring incompetence it demonstrates on the part of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) through the years.
The CBC should be praised for its jobs initiative. It’s a clear example of what members of Congress can really do when they leave Washington and put the country before their own individual careers. Moreover, the CBC wisely used the power of their 42 full members to rope in hundreds of businesses to offer jobs during these national job fairs, something that individual members in their own districts likely could not have pulled off with ease.
However, the frustration expressed towards President Obama, as well as the rant Waters in particular went on about the Tea Party movement both strike me as somewhat politically self serving, even in the midst of a great public service such as the Jobs Initiative.
It’s no secret that the President has not been the most effective negotiator with the Republican Party and the Tea Party faction that runs the party. House Speaker John Boehner (D-Ohio) almost lost his job to Eric Cantor (D-Va.) (and still might) over even attempting to work on a mutual deal with the President during the debt ceiling fight in large part because of the Tea Party Caucus led by Michelle Bachman (D-Minn.).
Still, it is a little disingenuous for Waters to suggest that the CBC is frustrated because Obama has no plan and that she could not understand why his recent bus tour did not visit any majority black communities. The CBC has more access to this president’s Oval Office than they’ve had for the previous eight years under George Bush.
If the caucus leadership has a problem, they are not being ignored, or locked out. They might simply not have a plan of their own. Moreover, by putting the focus directly on Obama they are shielding themselves from their own collective – and possibly individual – negligence in looking after the economies of their own communities.
You can’t have it both ways, essentially arguing that “I feel how angry you are with the president, but I can’t talk to him because I think you’ll vote me out for talking to him.” Many of these communities were hurting long before Barack Obama got into office, and the CBC members know that, but they are playing a subtle version of the same “blame Obama” message as the Tea Party Republicans.
More importantly, any member of the CBC should be ashamed of complaining about the Tea Party influence in Congress given their own numbers and history. The CBC has been in existence for 30 years and currently has 42 members. The Tea Party Caucus just started in the 112th Caucus and has 60 members, many of whom are freshmen congressmen. The CBC could easily wield just as much influence with this president (or any past president) as they want. They simply haven’t exercised that power.
The 42 CBC members could have refused to vote on any debt ceiling bill that didn’t include revenues, or new taxes or closing of loopholes. Most of them come from safe majority minority seats. They could have held Obama’s feet to the fire if they wanted to, but they didn’t. Perhaps members feared a primary challenger or backlash in their own communities, but if that’s the case they are just collectively admitting their own impotence and craven desire for re-election over what’s best for the country.
President Obama has made plenty of mistakes in his first term, but it’s in large part because his own party won’t play hardball the way his opponents do, holding him to pledges and forcing strong policy stands. The Congressional Black Caucus should stop complaining about the Tea Party and start emulating them.