In a summer that saw a debt limit crisis, controversy of summer vacations of Congress and the President, and hurricanes and earthquakes in Washington, one should expect fireworks from political leaders. Our two political parties are so stuck in gridlock that even choosing a night for the President to address both chambers of Congress is near impossible.
In this environment, Maxine Waters, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and a congresswoman representing a district in the greater Los Angeles area, went on a trip during the congressional recess and made headlines. The first stop of note was in Detroit – a city that is still ravaged by unemployment, brain drain, crime and limited growth. Despite the auto bailout that has helped put off the demise of the domestic automakers, Detroit is still very deep in recession. It was at a town hall in Detroit that Maxine offered, “We do not put pressure on the president because y’all love the president,” Waters said. “You are very proud to have a black man as president for the very first time in the history of the United States of America. … The Congressional Black Caucus loves the president, too. We’re supportive of the president, but we’re getting tired. We’re getting tired. The unemployment is unconscionable. We don’t know what the strategy is.” Later, Waters would ask her audience to “unleash” the CBC on Obama. TOC could write multiple full-length books breaking down how asinine these statements are, but time is not available. Instead, we can take a brief review here.
First, it is insulting that Maxine feels the need to “talk down” to the participants and use the slang “y’all” in what is supposed to be a professional, formal forum. Does she not think her audience can handle the formal “you?” Does she look at them as the great “unwashed masses” that she has mercilessly come from DC to save? Can she not use the same terms in front of these people that she uses with her Congressional colleagues or potential campaign contributors? If her audience cannot handle formal English, is that not a crisis that she should be focusing on instead of whether or not we “love” the President? If a majority African-American audience struggles with formal English, why is she confused about the strategy and waiting for Obama? Should it be obvious that her audience needs tools necessary to participate in a now global market for labor and knowledge? For what is Maxine waiting?
Next, why is it that she says “we” do not put pressure on Obama because “y’all” love the President? So, we have a representative of the people that, hopefully, recognizes the people need jobs and the tools to get those jobs. While it is true that Maxine does things to bring jobs to poorer districts, marginal job fairs and town halls are not enough. Why on earth has she not been pushing the President – because people love him? This reads as an excuse – as if she is saying she cannot do what she implies is right (hold Obama accountable to something) since it would be unpopular since Obama is loved. Leadership is not not doing what you are implored by circumstances to do since it may be unpopular at first. A classic example of what is wrong with those we send to Washington is that they choose to do what is politically expedient instead of what is thought to be right.
Waters goes on to say that you are very proud to have a black man as President. Consider that she does not say a black man that has a record for supporting black initiatives on a grand scale, even though he was in the Senate before becoming President. Let’s ignore the implication that the “unwashed masses” have blind love for Obama while the CBC’s love for him is tempered with the expectation of accountability. Thank goodness we have Maxine to not only speak down to us in our language, but also to hold Obama accountable since we cannot do it. We are too blinded by this pride that we cannot hold Obama accountable – we need the CBC to challenge Obama’s lack of results in the African-American community. The implied problem is that she cannot do her constitutionally-directed duty to check the President and her social duty to support unemployed African-Americans because the “unwashed masses” love him too much. Later, Maxine told the audience to unleash the CBC on Obama – does her duty to her constituents, her people and her country not require that anyway?
The problem with Waters here has several layers. First, her fear of political retribution in doing her job limits her from doing what she is supposed to do. She has to implore people to “support” her in pushing Obama to create a plan to address African-American employment instead of doing it on her own. Second, she seems to have a complete lack of both respect for and acknowledgement that her audience (and the general African-American population) can separate their pride for the first African-American president and their ability to hold him accountable. Basically, “y’all” need the CBC to do something, but since you love him so much we cannot do what needs to be done so please get over it and unleash us on him. Seems to me that African-Americans are smart enough to know something is wrong at 1600 Pennsylvania, despite our obvious pride with the first African-American President. Next, why is it that we are waiting to get a strategy now? African-Americans were in a disadvantaged position during the Election of 2008, so why was Maxine not shouting for a strategy or an agenda then? One clearly does not exist; if it did, we would expect Maxine to have blessed it and expected Obama to adhere to it. I am not aware of such an agenda. What would have been expected of the CBC in 2008 is the request for such an agenda before CBC members campaigned for and supported Obama. Alas, that is not the case, as political party affiliations and riding on the coattails of the exuberance of 2008 were too important. Strange, back then it was the CBC members that had a lot of love for Obama to not address the need for an “African-American strategy.”
The CBC and TOC strongly disagree on what is required to bring the African-American community to par with the rest of the general population when it comes to employment and education. We will not talk about differences in what the solutions to the problem are now (in a later post). The point for now is that we need to have leaders focus on seeking a solution, which Maxine still needs to be “unleashed” to do (ideally double-digit unemployment in her district and in Detroit are enough, but the CBC has to get over the “unwashed masses” love for Obama).