Just How Progressive is the Congressional Black Caucus?

“And if a house divided (split into factions and rebelling) against itself, that house will not be able to last”

Gospel of Mark, 3:25

As we near the beginning of a new, Democrat-dominated session of Congress, much attention is focused on who will become chairs of important committees and subcommittees. Most of the Black candidates to wield committee gavels are males with longstanding progressive credentials ­ a fact that tends to give the impression that the Black Caucus is chock-a-block with progressive guys. However, a CBC Monitor analysis of voting records shows that the women of the Caucus are significantly more progressive than the men.

When the Caucus is examined as a body, the gender gap is dramatic. Of the 12 female voting members, 10 earned places in the Honor Society, with “A” grades (90-100%) ­ an impressive 83% of total voting women. (The two women congressional delegates from Washington, DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands cannot vote on the House floor.)

“Not a single CBC woman scored less than a ‘B'”

The remaining two female members earned a “B” with 80-89% scores. Not a single CBC woman scored less than a “B” in the final grading period of 2006.

The men were a very different story. Twelve men out of 29 earned the Honor Society “A” ­ 41% vs. 83% for the women. A total of 17 men rated “A” or “B” ­ 59% of male members, compared to 100% percent of females.

It was all downhill from there for the men of the CBC.

Clustered at the Bottom: All Men

Ten males, 34% of the total, scored in the “Underachiever” 60-70% range, for a “C” grade. Two “Derelicts” managed to fall below 60%. The combined male “Underachievers” and “Derelicts comprised 41% of CBC men ­ the same percentage as those that scored an “A”. Thus, the bottom-scoring men are equal in number to the top male scorers, while the women are grouped entirely at or near the top of the class.

(Lone Black Senator Barack Obama scored an underachieving 70% percent ­ a “C” ­ on the Report Card.)

The pattern becomes even more stark when Caucus members’ scores are aggregated by gender. Women scored an average 93.3% – a group Honor Roll, while CBC men languished in the “Underachiever” column, with a group score of 76.2%.

Based on the record, Black women who are elected to Congress are all but guaranteed to be more progressive ­ that is, to defend and advance the interests of their constituents, rather than corporations ­ than nearly half of Black male members. We cannot help but believe this figure is a commentary on African American culture ­ that it reflects realities far beyond electoral politics.

In the October 25 Inaugural Issue of Black Agenda Report, I wrote: “Just over half of the voting CBC members can be counted on to do the right thing, most of the time.” Our latest analysis of the numbers shows that the half of the CBC that can be counted on includes virtually all the women, but barely half the men.

“In general, Black female congressional candidates will behave in a more progressive manner once in office than their male counterparts.”

To be fair, CBC Monitor has not done a gender-based analysis of non-Black congresspersons’ voting records. However, at least one study indicates that white women are more likely to win in more “liberal” congressional districts, while there is no discernable political difference among Black districts that elect males or females. If true, this is a strong indication that, in general, Black female congressional candidates will behave in a more progressive manner once in office than their male counterparts.

There is more to progressive behavior than just voting correctly on the House floor. Outgoing CBC chairman Mel Watt has been an Honor Society member over the past three CBC Monitor grading periods. Yet his behavior toward Black women is infamous, on and off The Hill. His bullying, crude attempts to isolate Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) likely contributed to her defeat at the polls, this year (see “R.I.P. Mel Watt,” BAR, November 1). Watt dogged McKinney at the behest of another woman, Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic Leader. Apparently, Watt is quite willing to defer to white women with power.

In the next session of Congress, Detroit Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, another Honor Society member, takes over as CBC chair. Under her leadership, we can hope for both more civil and more progressive behavior from the Caucus that could once ­ but no more ­ credibly describe itself as the “conscience of the Congress.”

LEUTISHA STILLS, a member of the CBC Monitor, is on the Faculty Administration of George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia. She can be reached at leutishastills@hotmail.com.

This is analysis originally appeared in The Black Agenda Report, the dynamic new site run by Glen Ford, former editor of The Black Commentator.



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