The Congressional Black Caucus has morphed into an institution that works against Black people’s fundamental interests

Glen Ford

The devolution of the CBC can be directly traced to the flow of white corporate money to Black Democrats since roughly the turn of the 21st century. The corporate Right was very late in breaking free of their own racial inhibitions against interacting with masses of Black people where they politically live: in the Democratic Party organizations of the cities. But, by the late Nineties, corporate strategists were finally prepared to invest significant moneys in compatible Black Democratic politicians like Newark’s Cory Booker. In 2002, the corporate Right (and the Israel lobby) funneled millions to Booker’s first mayoral campaign, and financed rightwing Black Democratic challengers to progressive Reps. Cynthia McKinney (GA) and Earl Hilliard (AL). Both congresspersons were defeated. Booker, an advocate of school privatization, lost the mayor’s race by a thin margin, but his strong showing against an entrenched incumbent encouraged the corporate fat cats to double down on their investment in Democratic Black politics.

By 2005, the CBC had a significant rightwing faction, consisting of Harold Ford Jr. (TN), Artur Davis (AL), David Scott (GA), Albert Wynn (MD), Gregory Meeks (NY), Sanford Bishop (GA), and William Jefferson (LA). The decisive shift of the Caucus’s center of gravity to the right gave cover to other opportunistic members anxious to cash in on the new flow of corporate campaign contributions, or to avoid facing a corporate-funded challenger in the next election. (In addition, Barack Obama, the new Black senator and a nominal member of the CBC, was voting the corporate line on key issues, further tilting the bar on Black Democratic political behavior.)

2005 was the year the CBC definitely collapsed as a dependably “progressive” body. Fifteen of the Black Caucus’s 38 full-voting members (delegates from DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands cannot vote on the House floor) voted with Republicans on at least one of three key bankruptcy, estate tax or energy bills – an outcome that would have been unimaginable just a few years earlier.Nevertheless, the CBC Report Card for September 2005, produced by the team that now edits BAR, gave 21 members an “A” grade (90-100%) and 7 more a “B” (85%), based on key “bright line” votes. The other ten lawmakers scored between 75% (“C”) and 5% (“F” – Harold Ford Jr.).

Nine members rated a perfect 100%, while 14 others scored 90%, meaning they had voted “wrong” only one time during the reporting period.

In 2006, the CBC cemented its uniquely servile alliance with the giant telecommunications corporations. In the industry’s first serious legislative attempt to turn the Internet into a toll road, the COPE Act garnered just 46 percent support among Democrats in the House, but won two-thirds of Black Caucus votes. Eight years ago, the CBC climbed into the pockets of the telecoms, where it still remains.

In the intervening years, the CBC has been utterly corrupted by corporate money and the accelerating rightward lunge of the Democratic Party. If there were still a CBC Monitor, not a single member would rate a perfect score, given the unanimous vote on Gaza. (Indeed, that vote, alone, condemns the current CBC to everlasting disgrace.) The eight Black congresspersons that voted for the Grayson amendment to halt police militarization comprise only 20% of the Caucus (more than twice as many Republicans voted for Grayson!) a pitiful fraction of an institution that now works against Black people’s fundamental interests in peace, social justice and self-determination.

What would Malcolm Do?

Malcolm X knew well the uses of shaming. He badmouthed the “Big Six” civil rights organizations (NAACP, SCLC, SNCC, Urban League, CORE and A. Philip Randolph) at every opportunity for allowing whites in power to put “cream in the coffee” in the 1963 March on Washington. Malcolm questioned these “leaders” legitimacy and called them “puppets.” We cannot know whether Malcolm’s calculated assaults changed the worldview of even one of the Big Six, but they were all put on notice that a fearless Black man with a loud voice and a deep love for his people was watching their every move, and ready to instantly name-and-shame.

Malcolm’s aggressive critique gave millions of Black people “permission” to challenge the established “civil rights” order in the early and mid-Sixties, creating the political space for an explosion of Black political theory and practice that astounded the world – and ourselves.

The Black Caucus ain’t the Big Six. A solid majority of them are certifiable enemies of humanity, from Ferguson to Gaza and beyond. The times demand that we say so.

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