Misreading the Congressional Black Caucus's Fox Deal
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A deal with the devil? Is that really what the Congressional Black Caucus has cut with Fox News Network?
Color of Change.org, a political black political advocacy group, has burned up internet sites with petitions, launched a letter writing campaign, and orchestrated waves of writers and activists, including Jesse Jackson, to shame the caucus and demand that it scrap its plan to co-host two of the four scheduled presidential primary debates with Fox in 2008.
At first glance, the charge that the caucus has sold its political soul to the devil seems more than warranted. Fox is an unabashed, media attack dog for the Bush White House and the GOP. There's even a video making the rounds that catches Fox at its attack dog worst. It trots out a string of black conservatives who rant against Barack Obama, Coretta Scott King, and even make a tortured defense of comedian Michael Richards who took justifiable heat for his racist N word tirade.
But that's Fox, and its verbal assault mode is par for the course. The CBC, though, is a political horse of a different color. The 43 men and women in the caucus are moderate to liberal Democrats, but they are also politicians, and politicians being politicians they are prone to deal making.
It's part of the air they breathe in Washington. That's no surprise given the staggering storehouse of dollars that businesses and lobbyists dump on Congress. The congressional watchdog group, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, estimates that lobbyists and special interests groups, shoveled $13 billion out to Congress, the White House and federal agencies for deals, political favors, to massage legislation, and for assorted pork barrel projects the past five years.
Fox is right in that political mix with its money and influence peddling. Beyond just the dollars, caucus members are hardheaded, political realists, even traditionalists, who don't stray an inch from the way business is done within and without Congress.
They rely on a select group of scholars and experts to develop reports and position papers on issues. There appears to be little or no effort to inform the black public and involve community activists in its political actions. They are left almost completely in the dark on how their efforts translate into legislation that directly impacts on black communities.
In the absence of this feedback and involvement, the impression is that the caucus leaders spend much if not the bulk of their time and resources to the narrow and self-preserving task of electing more black Democrats to office, and making sure that those already there stay there, i.e. themselves.
Many black politicians dread being called elitist. They, like every other politician breathing, solemnly swear that they listen to what the people say and act on what they want. They tell themselves and the public that everything they do is done on behalf of their constituents. It is, and it isn't.
There is a considerable amount of good legislation they propose and even occasionally get passed that deal with problems and needs of poor and working class blacks. This does not alter the fact that the American political system is a self-protective, clubby, and chummy ball game in which politicians spend most of their time with each other.
As the consummate political insiders they spend most of their time with each other. This under girds their self-assigned role as experts in and arbiters of the inner craft of American politics. They are accustomed to the unchallenged and unquestioned brandishing of power.
They jealously hoard what they view as their sacred right to make all final decisions on proposing laws and supporting public policy they deem important. More often than not those laws and policies boost corporate special interests rather than poor and working-class blacks.
The Caucus's partnership with Fox seen in that light is no aberration. Despite the network and its boss, Rupert Murdoch's, abhorrent politics, and over-the-top political and racial bashes, it's still a big money operation, indeed, one of the biggest money and commercial media operations in the country. That potentially adds up to plenty of dollars in the CBC coffers.
The CBC Institute, which has drawn direct fire for the deal, needs the money for its educational programs. And it's the height of condescension to think that caucus members compromise their political beliefs by making the deal, or worse that it turns the caucus into a Fox subsidiary.
The deal is less a violation of principle and integrity that critics lambaste it as then just another business deal. The CBC's oft-stated mantra is that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, just permanent interests. In inking the deal with Fox, the caucus is merely living up to its mantra. And since that's the way the CBC does business, its interest in Fox and Fox's interest in it makes perfectly good sense.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of the book, The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and the GOP's court of black voters.