jimsleeper.com » A Corrupt Congressional Black Caucus

A Corrupt Congressional Black Caucus

By Jim Sleeper – December 3, 2009, TPMCafe

“One of most intriguing mysteries here in recent weeks is why members of the Congressional Black Caucus have chosen to buck their party and president in trying to stall financial regulation reform,” writes the New York Times’ Eric Lipton. “The answer lies at least in part with an aggressive lobbying campaign by a troubled New York City-based radio broadcasting company, Inner City Broadcasting, whose co-founder is a prominent New York politician and businessman, Percy Sutton.”

But there is another part of the answer, and I have it.

Lipton’s part of the answer puts politely what Irving Levine, a New York City inter-group relations expert, taught me years ago: “All ethnic succession involves sharp polarization, power struggles, accommodations and trade-offs that lead to coalitions and, finally, joint ventures to make money through polite graft.”

That part is true, as far as it goes: The Congressional Black Caucus doesn’t care a whit about Tim Geithner’s financial “reforms” or even about defending the “civil rights” of minority entrepreneurs, as it claims it’s doing. No, it’s holding reform hostage to secure unrelated protections for one of its big Sugar Daddies. But the gambit only gets worse from there.

In fronting for Sutton, the CBC seems no worse than the Republican “Black Horse Cavalry” of yore (and of two years ago), or than any Democratic Congress, almost ever; it just gives the word “blackmail” a new, unfortunate twist.

This twist has even Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, dancing like a marionette because the Caucus holds the swing votes on his committee, and because Frank’s Massachusetts constituents include knee-jerk white liberals who’d be shocked if he stood up to anyone claiming the mantle of civil-rights.

But it’s the history of civil rights struggles, and the recent dispossession of so many of blacks by the predations of finance capital, that makes the Caucus members’ behavior even sadder than the usual “polite graft.” And the 89-year-old Sutton, a cosmopolitan but bitter paladin of inner-city broadcasting, makes the Caucus’ intransigence truly sickening.

Elected Manhattan Borough President in the 1970s, Sutton became enraged by what he saw as white Democratic reformers’ racist betrayals of his mayoral aspirations. He left politics and made millions partly by programming slick, demagogic racial rants, interrupted by commercials for Visa credit cards on his radio station WLIB in New York.

On the morning talk show, host Clayton Riley was fond of naming white columnists and politicians he disliked and, after a stagey pause, reminding listeners of a certain black general’s admonition to “Find the enemy; isolate it; and kill it.” One morning I heard Riley call a certain columnist “crypto-fascist slime, asleep at the wheel. Gonna crash! Gonna crash!”

In 1993 the civil-libertarian Nat Hentoff wrote Sutton an open letter in the Village Voice, asking what Sutton thought might happen if a deranged loner took Riley and others on the station seriously. Sutton – who had been Malcolm X’s lawyer in his younger years — never answered Hentoff’s letter, his silence betokening a latter-day media mogul’s unquenchable, fine-spun rage.

Two months later, Colin Ferguson, a black man who turned out to have been a dedicated listener to WLIB, gunned down white passengers on a Long Island Railroad car during the evening rush hour. That prompted me to recall and re-publish the black poet Julius Lester’s warning, when Louis Farrakhan had threatened David Dinkins with death ten years earlier, that

“The time has come to stop making apologies for black America, to stop patronizing black America with that paternalistic brand of understanding which excuses and finds reasons for the obscenities of black hatred…. Farrakhan is subtly but surely creating an atmosphere in America where hatreds of all kinds will be easier to express openly, and one day, in some as yet unknown form, those hatreds will ride commuter trains into the suburbs. By then it will be too late for us all.”

Well, you can look up Percy Sutton in my The Closest of Strangers and read about his “hate radio” in the second and third pdfs on this string. But the important question is why the Congressional Black Caucus is stalling any reform of finance capital in order to protect him.

The short answer – over to you and the Times, Eric Lipton — is that Sutton, who now owns 17 stations in several states, is a big campaign contributor to many of these bozos, including Harlem’s Charlie Rangel, a loveable, old-time pol who’s ardent in Sutton’s defense.

A longer answer, as I showed in Liberal Racism and here — and as Lani Guinier came around to arguing very clearly last year in the Modern Law Review is that “safe” minority districts produce perpetual, possessive incumbents. They trade on skin color as a token of solidarity, but otherwise they demobilize and pacify their constituents on issues that might really get them active and more demanding of change — and of challengers to the incumbent. These place-holders and ersatz tribunes of the downtrodden prefer money for radio commercials (this is what takes them to Sutton) more than old-fashioned political service-delivery and patronage methods that really organize and turn out masses of voters. Surprise, surprise.

Guinier writes that Mayor David Dinkins was surprised when black City Council members whom he’d thought would support his initiatives for their poor constituents proved more interested in cutting deals with moneyed sources that wanted very different initiatives. Even legislators who postured as militants often aspired, like Sutton, to become establishment insiders, brokers of whatever patronage, real-estate deals, franchises, contracts, zoning variances, and tax breaks they could wrest from the white establishment, only occasionally by charging “racism.”

Frankly, I doubt that Dinkins was all that surprised by any of this. He was an early investor in Sutton’s Inner City Broadcasting, and he celebrated his mayoral victory in 1989 by saying, “Tonight I stand on the shoulders of Percy Ellis Sutton.” He certainly knew the drill of minority advancement through polite graft.

I don’t suggest that Dinkins ever liked, much less endorsed, the hatred on WLIB, although he did appear regularly on that station, where Riley – between rants – would interview him as obsequiously as Fox News’ Neil Cavuto used to interview George Bush between rants at liberal Democrats such as Senator Dick Durbin.

But neither would I suggest that Sutton and his investors and political dependents are all that keen to reconfigure finance capital, especially those arrangements that, with a little tweaking, benefit them, as they have “leaders” of other rising ethnic groups at the expense of their own poor, trusting, and/or resigned constituents. If the Caucus wanted to hold up the process in order to demand real reform, this would be a different story.

But the story right now is that its behavior stinks, as such congressional behavior always has – only, this time, even more so.

The Congressional Black Corrupticus, Yet Again

By Jim Sleeper – February 13, 2010, 6:22PM

I’ll say this as nicely as I can: The Congressional Black Caucus is a parasite whose movements show vividly what ails the Democratic caucus as a whole. Republicans, of course, are a cancer, but the parasite mattered more after voters removed some of the cancer in 2008 and made Democrats the majority, whetting appetites on that side, not least at the CBC.

Early in December, I posted here a column, “The Congressional Black Corrupticus Strikes Again.” The CBC was holding finance-regulation hostage to a favor it demanded for Percy Sutton, a folkloric black pioneer in elective office who died a month later with many accomplishments to his credit but also with many scores settled and an estate enhanced thanks to the CBC.

Typical though the CBC’s behavior was of congressional corruption, I argued that the caucus is uniquely wrong to misuse the civil-rights-movement’s legacy to feather its nest by screwing its constituents. My post was met with crashing silence, but I learned that some at the New York Times had noted it. To the paper’s new reinforcement of my warning, I’d add this: Whether you seek bipartisanship or ideological purity, don’t ever let political correctness bar you from telling the truth.