- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

My column today is an open appeal to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, that color-of-their-skin bastion in danger of making itself irrelevant as Democratic sisters and brothers begin the inevitable reckoning with their constituents. Howard Dean’s Democrats are setting an ugly tone in some races.

In the New Orleans mayoral election, race colored the scene as Democratic incumbent Ray Nagin indicted the national money-churning machine of his white rival, Democrat Mitch Landrieu, son of Moon and brother of Mary, Louisiana’s senior senator. “There’s something national going on,” Mr. Nagin said a few days before May 20 runoff.

Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who is trying to capture the Democratic nod in Maryland’s Senate race, blamed “old-line party bosses” for his lack of support. And he has a point. Like their national counterparts, Maryland Democratic bosses have long taken the black vote for granted, and Republicans are counting on the lack of progress on such key issues as suburban crime and high taxes to bolster their chances come fall.

Will the Congressional Black Caucus step front and center on those and other issues that affect the quality of life of black America? Don’t bet on it.

And don’t bet on the mainstream media, which slides into situational mode even when the Democrats haven’t submitted a press release as its request. For example, in February 2005, Howard Dean stood alongside black Democrats, including members of the black caucus, and delivered these racist remarks: “You think the Republican National Committee could get this many people of color in a single room? Only if they had the hotel staff in here.” That was last year.

Need a more current example of situational journalism and the black caucus? An elected official trying to gain entry into a federal office building is denied access because she is not wearing the one thing that would surely grant her a rite of passage. After initial news stories, the mainstream media tries to spin the tale off this particular donkey, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, by questioning the tactics of the law enforcers.

Here’s another. An elected official is videotaped in an FBI corruption probe that already has nabbed one of that official’s former aides. The elected official is Rep. William Jefferson and the former aide is Brett Pfeffer, who pleaded guilty in January to bribery charges. Earlier this month, a business associate also pleaded guilty in the political corruption case. Mr. Jefferson, meanwhile, was videotaped with the money in his hands, and during a raid of his D.C. home law enforcers found $90,000 in cold cash in the congressman’s freezer. Innocent until proven guilty.

One of Howard Dean’s lieutenants, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, met (behind closed doors, of course) with Caucus members to discuss Mr. Jefferson’s political fate. The result was a request for his immediate resignation as a member of Congress’ oldest standing committee, the House Ways and Means Committee. A defiant Bill Jefferson decided, this time, against following the leader. “With respect, I decline to do so, Mr. Jefferson wrote in his response.

Yet again, situational journalism spins the wheel. A column by Michael Cottman, a former reporter with The Washington Post, taints the picture. It’s by way of Ron Walters, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland. Said Mr. Walters to Mr. Cottman: “I question the timing of the investigation. I think Republicans are trying to create a crisis in leadership, but I don’t think there is a crisis at time.”

Blame the Republicans. Use the political victimization case to defend the defendant.

Question the “timing” of the moves (and motives) of the FBI. Timing is everything in a raid.

Mr. Cottman goes on to write: “Sources said black Democrats also feel they should take a visible stand since they feel the FBI overstepped its authority by searching Jefferson’s office and some see the federal government as trying to take down another black elected official.”

Shouldn’t Mr. Jefferson at least explain to American voters why he keeps $90,000 wrapped in foil in his home freezer? And did he use Reynolds Wrap or a “Dollar Bill” foil he bought in the ‘hood?

See what I mean?

Reporting like that on the criminal allegations and political implications of William Jefferson utterly fails to explain the Jack Abramoff scandal. Or what happened to congressman Duke Cunningham of California. Or Trent Lott of Mississippi. Or Tom DeLay of Texas. White guys all.

A congressman “on the take” is a dangerous congressman. His race is irrelevant.

And if a congressman on the take is unwilling to step down or step aside, then his colleagues — be they members of the Republican caucus, the black caucus or the Democratic caucus — are obligated to either push him out the door with a straight spine or force him to scoot on his hind parts.

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