Now Is Not the Time To Lose Love For CBC and the President
Stand up and be counted like it's 1984
This week begins the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. As many of America’s most influential black leaders meet to network and strategize, a difficult question confronts all attendees: At this moment when African-American political and business leaders have made more gains than ever before, why are large numbers of black Americans still failing in nearly every quality of life category?
Providing an answer is no easy task. However, some CBC members have sought to lay the blame squarely on President Obama’s shoulders. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Ca.), suggested voters “unleash” the Democrats on President Obama. Congressman and CBC Chairman, Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), addressed the issue commenting that if things were this bad under another president, then "we probably would be marching on the White House.”
But the truth is just the opposite. Things have been this bad before. And black voters did not march on the White House lawn, instead they worked on behalf of the Democratic Party to claim the White House. Precedent suggests that when there is a black candidate and high unemployment, black Americans are most likely to exercise the most important tool allotted to any citizen in a democracy: the vote.
The current black unemployment rate, 16.7%, is the highest it has been since 1984. That year, President Ronald Reagan, running for re-election, was petitioning voters for a chance to impose four more years of Reaganomics. Reagan wanted to further policies that had contributed to record black unemployment.
On the Democratic side, despite challenges from Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart, John Glenn, George McGovern and even a young Joe Biden; Walter Mondale emerged as the nominee. And when general election time came, black Americans did not march on the White House lawn. Instead, they stood up to be counted. Reversing an almost 20-year steady decline in turnout, black election participation peaked at 55.8%. Black Americans had been energized by Jesse Jackson’s gallant bid to become President.
“Keep hope alive,” they chanted. Jackson won 6.9 million votes and seven primaries. In the end, the excitement around Jackson’s campaign helped to deliver the black vote to the Democratic Party.
It seems, black voters are poised to do just the same in 2012. According to poll results from a recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal Poll, despite record unemployment in black communities, 92% of black Americans approve of President Obama’s job performance, with only 5% voicing disapproval.
The lesson, of course, is that black voters are an exceedingly loyal bunch. Members of the CBC are well schooled in this lesson. Many members’ careers depend on it. Most CBC members represent districts that are overwhelming poor and overwhelming black. Even in the best economic times, the unemployment statistics in most CBC districts are remarkably high.
Neighborhoods in CBC districts are often times marred with high crime, high drop out rates, high teen pregnancy, poor health care, low wealth and high blight. Despite these dire truths, black members of Congress who represent black districts are among the members of Congress that are least likely to lose re-election bids.
For example Maxine Waters, a member of Congress since 1991, represents Los Angeles. At every point during Waters’ term in Congress, the poverty rate in Los Angeles has been higher than the national average. And data bare similar results in Harlem, Detroit, Chicago, Houston and many other majority black districts with black Congressional representation.
The bottom line is simple. The dreadful circumstances that exist in communities represented by CBC members are not new. In fact, in these districts, despair is the norm. If an elected official is required to show substantial rage because circumstances are appallingly hopeless in their district, then few if any CBC members have a right to express new found rage at President Obama. The rage of CBC members should permeate as a constant across the entire tenure of most members.
So the question becomes, what should members do? And the answer is simple. Rally behind the President. There is a higher likelihood of reversing negative trends in black communities under President Obama’s tenure than under that of any of the potential Republican nominees.
So as CBC Conference attendees gather, maybe everyone should act like it is 1984...keep hope alive and mobilize the black vote.