CBC and Jefferson's Dance
by Matt Stoller, Thu Nov 30, 2006 at 07:31:41 AM EST
Oliver Willis, Jill Tubman, and Skeptical Brotha are pointing to William Jefferson's receipt of $5000 from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation as evidence that the CBC is serving its own interests and not those of African-Americans. It's difficult for me to understand the calculations here, since the politics of the CBC aren't the most well-reported and well-understood dynamics out there, and most good faith actors in progressive politics are afraid to speak openly of race.
This lack of discussion is a serious problem, of course. We can't ignore race, since it does cut through the emerging new Democratic coalition. But with block groups like the CBC apparently willing to actively support obviously corrupt politicians like William Jefferson (and largely white groups like Blue Dogs willing to immediately smear politicians like Hastings and Menendez as tainted), it becomes almost impossible to have intellectually honest discussions about how to move a multi-racial coalition forward. Jefferson's voting record is awful, in line with Al Wynn's greedy record.
"Dollar Bill" Jefferson voted for NAFTA, GATT, WTO, PNTR and a whole host of other acronyms that spell greed while his constituents suffered from some of the most persistent poverty, crime and social dysfunction in the nation. His plate was full doing favors for the wealthy and powerful while black-on-black crime in New Orleans reached new heights and the public schools deteriorated. It never mattered to him because he could always get re-elected with coffers full of corporate cash while his constituents continued to suffer and rot.
The last straw for me was when he voted to repeal Estate Taxes for the wealthiest families in the nation while large numbers of his constituents still had no jobs, no homes, no temporary assistance, and no hope.
This record is appalling, as is Jefferson's support from the CBC. There are great members of the CBC, people who are brave and experienced in putting forward a progressive agenda, and who have credibility in facing down immense racism and injustice in this country. The failure of accountability within the caucus though makes it incredibly difficult to take the CBC seriously as a block, and makes it harder to address situations like that of post-Katrina New Orleans, which most white people (though not white progressive activists) have turned away from as a far-away tragedy. There is a multi-racial progressive coalition that is being created, but there's so little trust right now on all parts that it's hard to move forward. I don't doubt that there are hugely complicated factors that I don't understand, and this is not a blanket condemnation of the CBC at all.
Indeed, I don't have any answers here, and I'm not going to pretend that this is an easy problem. There were probably calculations internally to send a check but not speak out or act as surrogates. The CBC isn't supporting Jefferson full-bore at all. Still, they are wrong to send money to William Jefferson, and they know it.