By Glen Ford —
“The Black Misleadership Class has no intention of taking any position that might discomfort this president or reveal their own impotence.”
While the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met at the White House to press for immigration reform, on January 25, traditional Black organizations gathered at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel to further refine their so-called “Black Agenda,” for presentation to President Obama at some future date. The five broad goals are really more like a set of suggestions for Obama’s consideration, talking points on economic parity, educational opportunity, voting rights, healthcare disparities, and criminal justice reform – nothing remotely resembling demands. Obama need never worry about any drama from this crowd.
Malcolm X would have derisively called them the Big Four-Plus: the National Urban League’s Marc Morial; Ben Jealous, of the NAACP; National Coalition of Black Civic Participation president Melanie Campbell; Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network and Obama’s Black political pit bull; plus an assortment of 50 or so other notables. It has taken them four years and a history-wrenching Black economic catastrophe to come to the conclusion that African Americans ought to have something to say to the First Black President besides “we love you and your beautiful family so much.” Finally, with Obama’s second and last term secure, the Black Misleadership Class pretends to have a political existence and agenda beyond organized sycophancy in the face of Power. But it’s all a charade.
“Demands would be put forward, against which the president’s speech would be publicly measured.”
A Black formation that was serious about pressuring a sitting president would seek to have an influence on next Tuesday’s State of the Union Address. Demands would be put forward, against which the president’s speech would be publicly measured. That’s politics101. But, despite their recent posturing, the Black Misleadership Class has no intention of taking any position that might discomfort this president or reveal their own impotence. For them, the State of the Union address is yet another occasion to bask in Obama’s glow, to feel, vicariously, at the center of the world stage, to rally once more around the Icon-in-Chief. It is the antithesis of independent Black politics – of serious politics of any kind – and renders the Big Four-Plus useless at every crucial juncture and all points in between. For all other groups, the State of the Union address is a barometer of a president’s commitment to the interests of their constituency – stated for the world to hear and see. But, for the Black Misleadership Class, it is just another chance to swell with pride at the sight of all those white folks summoned to sit in rapt attention to a Black man’s voice. The Big Four-Plus would never consider ruining the event with demands that Black interests be addressed in the State of the Union content.
Unless, of course, these Black interests have already been defined by the White House. The January 25 session of the Black Agenda-makers endorsed the American Jobs Act, Obama’s reworked 2011 bill that focuses mainly on tax incentives to encourage corporations to increase hiring. The Big Four-Plus also support the Obama administration’s voting rights efforts (as does the entirety of the Democratic Party, the overwhelming recipients of the Black vote). No points of conflict, there. However, the Morial-Jealous-Sharpton-Campbell version of the Black Agenda includes one item that is not in sync with the White House: the Urban Jobs Act. Introduced in February of 2011, the measure got no push from the Obama administration and has languished in a committee of the Republican-controlled House ever since.
“The State of the Union address is yet another occasion to bask in Obama’s glow.”
It’s really the Congressional Black Caucus jobs bill; all but 7 of the measure’s 25 sponsors are members of the CBC. More to the point, the Urban Jobs Act is a National Urban League bill. It would spend $200 million over five years “to provide a comprehensive set of services and activities for eligible young adults, to be implemented by local National Urban League affiliates.” The legislation’s “Findings and Purpose” section is a veritable executive summary of the need for a targeted response to the Black and Hispanic youth employment-education-incarceration crisis.
It’s a worthy piece of legislation. Of course, Obama’s not going to use up an ounce of political capital in support of the Urban Jobs Act – and why should he? After all, unlike immigration reform, it’s not part of a set of actual demands put forward by a well-organized and determined constituency that the White House is eager to please. It’s only backed by Black folks and their Misleadership Class, and they won’t make a fuss. Nobody’s afraid of them.