CBC and Jefferson's Dance

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.

Tags: CBC, karen carter, William Jefferson (all tags)

Comments

16 Comments

Re: CBC and Jefferson's Dance

Stylistically- I have a question. It feels like you are walking on eggshells reading your post. I think the point is- treat this person the same as everyone else or else it can only lead to bad results. If the CBC isn't doing this, and transparency isn't being provided, then people need to be as forceful in demanding those things here as anywhere else. Race does matter. But, doing what's best for the American voter (which includes us black people) is equally important. Why, in other words, are you holding back? Or am I wrong?

by bruh21 2006-11-30 07:47AM | 0 recs
Re: CBC and Jefferson's Dance

I'm not holding back, I'm just uncertain.  The African-American progressive political community needs to rejuvenate itself, but for a variety of reasons this is harder to do than it is for whites.

by Matt Stoller 2006-11-30 08:57AM | 0 recs
Re: CBC and Jefferson's Dance

I think this is one of the most thoughtful posts I've seen from you. This is a delicate topic to say the least and in the post you handled it superbly communicating your points as well as your lack of information on certain aspects of the issue.

by MNPundit 2006-11-30 01:10PM | 0 recs
Re: CBC and Jefferson's Dance

One of the most sensitive things for the party is its loyalty to incumbents.  Even incumbents who are weakened by scandal are nominally supported by the party.  Now, in Jefferson's case he sits in a safe Democratic seat and the runoff is between two Democrats anyway, but the party apparatus tends to discourage primary challenges to its incumbents.

I don't know why this is; it always seems that the party just assumes that the current Congressman is the best person to represent that seat.

by Tom 2006-11-30 08:13AM | 0 recs
Re: CBC and Jefferson's Dance

The Louisiana Democratic party has endorsed Carter over Jefferson since before Nov. 7 (which is, as you note, a very unusual thing for the party to do--but they did it this time).

I think this is more an issue with the CBC than with the party as a whole. Until now, I had no idea CBC had was tainted in this way at all. I can only guess that gerrymandering and the creation of many minority-majority districts have made CBC members far more established and safe than an average Democratic caucus member. It's easy to forget about your constituents when you never have to worry about  an election until you decide to retire.

Another reason for nonpartisan redistricting...

by College Progressive 2006-11-30 08:24AM | 0 recs
I think it's just

the culture of the current incarnation of political washington (an oxymoron, I know).  Corruption is so endemic to the whole enterprise due to the campaign financing system (aka lobbyist money) that I can see how some might consider it a forgivable sin, him taking money for himself just being a degree of separation from taking money for his campaign.

And given that they can turn around and use  campaign money for a legal defense fund, can pay relatives and cronies huge salaries, and live the good life off on the campaign's dime further blurs that line.

Obviously additional factors are at play here, but without the money issue they (they being all elected officals, not just the CBC) would be hard pressed to continue in the same attitude toward corruption.

by Ugluks Flea 2006-11-30 08:32AM | 0 recs
Can you call someone to ask?

ie., John Conyers who has repeatedly be in touch with netroots

by jasmine 2006-11-30 08:16AM | 0 recs
Majority status shows up the cracks

The fight over spoils is the more bitter because there are spoils - and because the Dems haven't had a House majority since the 103rd.

But it's not only the committee musical chairs - it's also the pressure of expectation of caucusoid constituents bearing down on caucuses in the new majority.

The allocation of the chairs is just an immediate way of keeping score, before the legislative action gets going.

When it gets going, the infighting is, I suspect, going to get much hotter and heavier.

Some might even call that democracy!

(The mega-corps and their K Street friends won't be standing back, either, of course, once the 110th gets going in earnest.)

This sort of activity is as natural as it comes. Dem reps don't come with haloes attached.

The problem with the CBC, in particular, is, as Matt hits straight off the bat:

most good faith actors in progressive politics are afraid to speak openly of race.

Why is that? When inter-ethnic competition in the Dem party was the Irish v the Poles, Italians, Germans, Jews, etc, was there such touchiness? Nowhere near as much, so far as I know.

(Plus, none of these ethnic groups had anything remotely resembling the CBC.)

There seems to be the same sort of respectful unwillingness to pry as if the CBC were some kind of religious group, with some of their leaders (Conyers in particular) attaining virtual sainthood.

It seems to come as a shock to some (dare one say, white boys?) in the lefty sphere that CBC-ers should operate pretty much like Dems of any hue in the Capitol, and have a similar mixture of qualities, good and bad.

The instinct, I sometimes feel, among white Dems is to prefer genuflection to debate.

Why? No one's suggesting, surely, that discussions on issues such as that the CBC's continuing support for Jefferson couldn't take place with temperate language, an absence of ad hominem and a common goal of maximizing the Dems opportunities in the 110th.

But it tends not to happen.

(It does here and now, thank to our Matt, of course!)

It's one thing to have this in the deep freeze (to pick an analogy at random!) whilst the Dems were the House minority.

But the stakes are too high now to not even consider the issue.

Of course, after full discussion, folks might decide to leave the whole thing in the deep freeze: the Rangel/Conyers generation are not going to be around too much longer (one might reason) and the party could treat them as a special case until those guys retire.

I'd need some convincing: but that's what discussion can lead to.

by skeptic06 2006-11-30 08:35AM | 0 recs
Re: CBC and Jefferson's Dance

Is the conceit that anyone who voted for Preferential Normal Trade Relations (with who exactly?) voted in favor of the general agreement on tariffs & trade or voted against withdrawing from the WTO, or even voted for NAFTA for that matter, is greedy?

William Jefferson is odious because he's an ethically challenged crook who abuses his power, not because he supports liberalized trade. Though the estate tax vote is extremely pernicious.

by DRR7979 2006-11-30 08:56AM | 0 recs
I'd go a step further

The votes on trade might accurately represent the interests of Jefferson's constituents, even if they're bad for the rest of the country.  

LA-02 is mostly metro New Orleans, a city that is a major hub of international trade through the Port of New Orleans.  Votes for NAFTA, CAFTA, or any other trade agreements may or may not be in the best interest of America as a whole, but there's a strong case to be made that New Orleans in particular stands to make major economic gains if international trade increases. Even if industries elsewhere in the U.S. collapse under the strain of competition (think textiles and cars), New Orleans still gains if some of the new imports come through New Orleans ports.  

by SGoo 2006-11-30 09:36AM | 0 recs
Re: CBC and Jefferson's Dance

I just wrote to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, expressing my disappointment and asking her to disavow the CBC endorsement. Maybe if the CBC members get enough heat, they will, at least individually, endorse Carter.

by john in california 2006-11-30 09:12AM | 0 recs
Re: CBC and Jefferson's Dance

Thanks for bringing this up Matt. Was the contribution through the CBC or the CBCF which appears in part CBC Spouse-driven? The CBC in general seems split between real progressives and corporate cheese-eaters. I wonder who exactly drove the decision and signed off on the contribution to Jefferson.

by Jill Tubman 2006-11-30 09:42AM | 0 recs
Who isnt crooked?

Trust me, I am not condoning anything the CBC has done with respect to this lowlife.

However, what Jefferson did was just a crude and illegal display of corruption. But isn't a guy like Lieberman corrupt when his wife Hadassah gets well paid only because of who her husband is? Isn't Lieberman feted as a respected politician by his own community? What about many Democratic and Republican politicians whose kids find jobs with compensation well in excess of what they would normally get paid if they went out in the free market? It is one thing for Cheney's daughter to get a job based on her dad's connections, but when the compensation exceeds by a decent margin whatever she would have gotten on merit, that is corruption. What about politicians who leave public office only to profit from their positions just weeks later? Mrally they are in the same boat.

You will say whaat Jefferson did was illegal. Sure. But what the CBC did wasn't. They are allowed to legally donate. But we are outraged because what they did was not morally right. And this is good we are outraged. But I just want to put in context on how bad this donation really was compared to many other political dealings.

But let's put the onus back on the black leadership in general, especially at the national level. It has done good things. But it is time for fresh blood. Certain leaders did a great job during the civil rights struggle, but are probably battle fatigued to take on new challenges in the post civil war struggle. Some leaders are probably just plain incompetent. Sure, there are white leaders who are incompetent, but the incompetence hurts the black leaders more because of their smaller numbers and lack of sufficient buffer to absorb the bad seeds.

The big name national black leaders have done a piss poor job of bringing about change in the black community. They have failed miserably when it came to schools.

Which brings me to another topic. WHY THE FUCK AREN"T MORE WHITE LEADERS taking ownership of the black issues? A black issue is still an American issue. If schools in black areas fail, that should be a concern that should be a #1 priority for leaders who are white or asian or latino. I think a lot of white leaders have kind of let black leaders take most of the ownership of black issues without giving them the right amount of help and checks and balances required.

by Pravin 2006-11-30 10:56AM | 0 recs
Re: CBC and Jefferson's Dance

The Congress of the United States is also a cocoon of ostentatious privilege that envelopes a member like a fly in a spider's web.  Slowly and imperceptibly, like a spider, which slowly drains the life from its prey, the ostentatious power and privilege of a member of congress similarly drains the humanity out of the member until they are nothing but an emotionally paralyzed, dead husk, useless to each other and their constituents.The Congressional Black Caucus should be ready to cast out the dead husk of "Dollar Bill" Jefferson from their midst before they are engulfed in the stench of his corruption. Unfortunately, some of them, for reasons which defy logic, have contributed significant sums to the cleptocrat.

In so doing, they reveal the broken bonds of obligation which is supposed to tether them to the common good. They have forgotten their solemn oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic." By not casting out the domestic enemy of "Dollar Bill" they are also unshrouded as domestic enemies of our republic. They are beneath contempt.

Thanks Matt

by skepticalbrotha 2006-11-30 08:34PM | 0 recs
Re: CBC and Jefferson's Dance

For the CBC, I think it is a dilemma similar to a Union in a workplace.  Unions have to defend dues-paying union workers at the workplace for various adverse actions that an employer may take, regardless of whether the adverse action was justified or not.   I think since Jefferson is currently in the CBC that they are nominally supporting him.   I would be more concerned about anyone who is coming out vocalling supporting him and endorsing him.

by robstephens 2006-12-01 02:28AM | 0 recs
Re: CBC and Jefferson's Dance
Gerrymandering installs congressmen-for-life. Southerners are very familiar with this. Used to be, the lifers were rural Dixiecrats who were re-elected without significant challenge for decades. Now, the lifers are suburban-rural Repubs and urban and black-belt black Dems.
I haven't crunched the numbers, but I'll bet there weren't a dozen truly competitive congressional districts in the old confederacy in 2006.
The same is true of state legislative districts in VA. Of 100 House of Delegate seats up in 2007, fewer than 10 appear to be competitive between parties. (A handful are competitive between conservative and ultra-right Repubs.)
That's the bad news. The good news is that corrupt or erratic incuments still lose - witness Cynthia McKinney in GA and, as we'll see shortly, William Jefferson in LA.
by allbetsareoff 2006-12-01 10:55AM | 0 recs

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