President Obama gave a fiery speech to his most loyal base at the conclusion of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) dinner on Saturday. The President spoke to the mostly black crowd on the importance of faith and the works of politics to get the job done. President Obama highlighted some of his accomplishments specifically affecting African Americans like extending unemployment benefits, increasing Pell grants, substantially increasing funds to the HBCU’s over 10 years and providing health insurance to more than 1 million more young adults in the next 1 ½ years, to name a few. Yet, the President acknowledged “we have to do more to put people back to work right now,” starting with the American Jobs Act, reforms for long term unemployment and summer jobs for low income youth.
Unfortunately, the speech was slightly marred at the very end with his comments to the CBC and those in attendance to “stop complaining and stop grumbling”. In many circles and to some members of the CBC, the comments were inappropriate or “curious”. I know these are words my mother often spoke to me while reprimanding me as child. Perhaps, his speech writer and the President himself should have rethought the use of this one line, which has been abuzz for a few days now.
President Obama wants the CBC and his black base to apparently “march’ silently with him. Yet, members of the CBC represent the bulk of the almost 17% of unemployed African Americans and the 48% of African American children living in poverty. The unemployment rate among African Americans is at its highest, according to Obama in three decades. For the CBC, there is a fine line between critiquing the President and being able to enthusiastically get the African American base out in 2012. That line has not been crossed.
There are those who may disagree with some CBC members, like Rep. Maxine Waters who criticize the President’s efforts. On Saturday, Obama called the CBC the “conscience of the Congress”. As the conscience of the Congress and as the Congressional representatives for their constituents, the CBC’s job is also to critique the President and let him know where he may be falling short. And when your most loyal base cannot urge you to do better and fight harder for their constituents, without getting a reprimand, there’s a disconnect somewhere. As one Facebook user said, “the Republicans can all but call him the “N” word and he doesn’t even flinch.”
And many black lawmakers no longer want to sit by idly without comment or critique; nor should they do so.
Debbie Hines is a lawyer and political/legal commentator seen on national and local media including CNN, the Michael Eric Dyson Show, XM Sirius radio, NBC, ABC and CBS -Washington, DC affiliates, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She founded LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. She also writes for the Huffington Post and Politic 365.