By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The question of who should or shouldn’t be in the Congressional Black Caucus only came up when new Tea Party–backed GOP congressmen Allen West (R-Florida) and Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) were asked whether they intended to join. The short answer to the question who should be a CBC member is: any African-American who sits in Congress. The name is the Congressional Black Caucus, not the Congressional Black Democratic Caucus. CBC chair Barbara Lee unhesitatingly tossed out the olive branch of membership and said West and Scott are more than welcome to join.
But in fact, there are several reasons the issue is muddy. Scott and West have sent mixed signals about whether they want in. West says yes. Scott has virtually said no, citing his allegedly rancorous experiences with black Democrats while he was a member of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus. But ruffled personal feelings are just part of the equation. There’s the issue of party affiliation, ideology, and the even larger question of what most African-Americans expect from their representatives.
Scott and West are not merely political outsiders. They are firmly committed to pushing the Tea Party’s agenda in Congress, as they have promised in countless political speeches, pep rallies, and Tea Party confabs. They see nothing wrong in being—and, in fact, take great pride in their role as—the desperately needed black face and voice of the Tea Party and of GOP ultra-conservatives in and out of Congress. Tea Party leaders have made no effort to mask their one overriding aim: to do everything politically possible to ensure that the Obama presidency is failed, flawed, and one-term. Scott and West share that goal. This makes them diametrically opposed to the political and philosophical goals of the current CBC membership.
The CBC, counter to the widespread impression, is not a political monolith of knee-jerk, reflexive liberals. Its ranks also include moderates and even conservatives. At times its members have split votes on legislation.
But no matter what their political differences, on some issues, they march in lockstep in support of President Obama and health care reform; affirmative action; increased government spending on education, jobs, and social programs; tight reins on Wall Street and the banking industry; an end to Bush tax cuts for the rich; a massive urban reconstruction program; and a wind-down of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. GOP leaders and the Tea Party stand for the exact opposite of those goals.
Then there’s the CBC’s mostly black constituency. True, many African Americans voice frustration, displeasure, and even anger at the Democratic Party for taking the black vote for granted and for saying little (and doing less) on issues ranging from criminal justice reform to the education crisis in inner-city schools. But black voters have been the bedrock of the Democratic Party for a half-century. They will not break ranks with the party at this juncture for two good reasons. The Democrats are still the only political game in town when it comes to giving political voice to their needs.
The GOP, despite occasional lip service to diversity, has shown in word and deed that it is cold, indifferent, and hostile to black interests. Its bread-and-butter constituency for five decades has been white conservatives in the Deep South and heartland, as well as seniors, blue-collar worker, rural voters, and—at times—ultra-conservative Democrats and independents. GOP leaders have long known that these voters can be easily riled up by the emotional wedge issues: abortion, family values, gay marriage and tax cuts.
During the yearlong debate on health care reform and in the months since the bill’s passage, they whipped up their hysteria and borderline racism against the new law. This was glaringly apparent in the ferocity and bile spouted by the shock troops that GOP leaders, in consort with the Tea Baggers, brought out to harangue, harass and bully Democrat legislators on the eve of the health care vote. These are the very same voters that GOP politicians—Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush, McCain, as well as legions of governors, senators and members of Congress—have called on to seize and maintain regional and national political dominance for decades.
Scott and West will say and do nothing to change this situation. Their goal is to do everything to return the GOP to power in all areas of government. Should the two new congressmen be invited to join the CBC? Of course. Will they accept the invitation to join? More than likely not. The two men are more than just a bad fit with the CBC. They represent everything the CBC is against.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson