Will Obama respond to CBC’s drama?

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by Charles D. Ellison

WASHINGTON (NNPA) —The past couple of weeks were overflowing with headlines of agitated Black Members of Congress throwing tantrums at the tea party, the president and anything that could create distance between them and the wrath of frustrated Black constituents looking for jobs.

Kitchen-Table-Summit
FRUSTRATION CONSTITUENT—K.T. Houston, left, of Inglewood, Calif., talks with Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., during a Kitchen Table Summit event at Inglewood High School Aug 20. More than 2,000 residents gathered around tables at the Los Angeles-area high school gymnasium to vent their frustrations about the lingering recession and call on their elected officials to focus on job creation. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)

It was the Black version of the summer of 2010; an In-Living-Color retrofit of those angry, legendary town hall meetings last year that took down the Democratic majority in the House, slimmed it down in the Senate and made President Obama wear a gray suit and ideologically matching red tie in a white flag waving peace sign the day after.

Thanks to that manufactured debt ceiling crisis, the most ardent tea party admirers are left in befuddled awe, according to a recent Pew survey, showing the conservative fad losing its sizzle in the wake of debt “debacles” (as the president loves to say) and avoidable defaults. The kick-them-while-they’re-down attacks from Congressional Black Caucus folks banging away at podiums, lifting arms and raising gospel have been so loud that we catch rattled commentators on FOX News whining, heads snapping in pouty fits of “how dare they.”

“The Tea Party should go straight to hell!” blurted Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., in finger-waving fury and a chorus of call-and-response. It was a stunning display of raw snap, like the pop of air pressure released in an airplane cabin. “I’m in church. I’m not going to repeat that.”

Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., one of two Black Muslims in Congress, went a bit cinematic with Jim Crow visuals at a recent CBC event in Miami, charging that the tea party would “… love to see us as second-class citizens” and “some of them in Congress right now, of this tea party movement, would love to see you and me hanging on a tree.”

But, many cameras focused in on a cantankerous string of classic Waters gracing television screens and YouTube visuals with vexing commentary aimed at her Black president. There she was in Detroit: “The Congressional Black Caucus loves the president too. We’re supportive of the president, but we’re getting tired, ya’ll. We’re getting tired.

“And so, what we want to do is, we want to give the president every opportunity to show what he can do and what he’s prepared to lead on. We want to give him every opportunity, but our people are hurting. The unemployment is unconscionable. We don’t know what the strategy is. We don’t know why on this trip that he’s in the United States now, he’s not in any Black community. We don’t know that.”

Much analysis on Waters’ tirades in past weeks seemed to paint her as an “angry Black woman” on an emotional punching spree. But, there is more to it, a political calculation that Waters herself is hoping will pay tremendous dividends heading into fall. While her outbursts and keep-it-realism is the stuff made of legend, Waters has used it skillfully to her advantage since days as a rising star in the California state legislature. If anything, keeping it loud and on the offensive keeps the heat of a taxing House Ethics probe off her back. She’s essentially putting her political enemies on notice: Beware.

Tensions had been mounting between the CBC and the Obama Administration since before their Leader of the Free World alum was elected. Whispers in Washington told a tale of a president soured on the Caucus since pretty much half of it dissed him in favor of initial 2008 primary favorite Hillary Clinton. It’s an ugly secret few will talk on record about.

Some observers partly blame the caucus for the unnecessarily long and caustic primary battle between Clinton and Obama—if Black Members of Congress had, simply, unanimously supported their former member when his tide began rising, it could have ended a bit more gracefully. Instead, there were Democratic super delegates like Waters and current CBC Chair Emmanuel Cleaver, D-Mich., who made high profile gambles on Clinton, perhaps unable to sever old ties from the stickiness of political favors.

Obama, in turn, felt slighted. And some say he’s been a bit “prickly” about it ever since.

“They [the CBC and White House] won’t admit it, but a lot of this is all about 2008, for real,” says the insider. “Yeah—some of it is crabs in a barrel, so what can you do. But, the president really took this personally. His advisers took it personally. And when he won, there was the CBC wanting to jump on the bandwagon, of course. Now, some of the same ones who were big on Hillary in ’08, now want his full attention in 2011. It is what it is.”

And what it is partly explains why the CBC enjoys very little access to the White House in comparison to their colleagues in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. During the course of one year, the CHC held four meetings with the president in contrast to the CBC being invited only once—and they had to beg for the next sit down.

But, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed believes that the perception of White House avoidance of the CBC is merely a matter of the president not alienating White voters. “If the president were to start speaking directly to African-Americans about what he’s doing for them, what he has done for them as the first African-American president, that during a general election campaign… could have very adverse [effects],” Reed said on MSNBC earlier this week.

“[B]lack people understand that. I think they understand it well…And I’d also like to talk to my friends in my own community who are raising these issues to make the point that if you weaken President Obama in the Black community, you seriously hamper his chances of being re-elected. A small depression among the African-American electorate could be devastating to this president. [W]ho is … going to do such a better job for Black people. Will it be Michele Bachmann? I mean, will it be Mitt Romney? Rick Perry?”

(Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune)

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