Rep. James Clyburn Pushes Back Against Critics of Dems, CBC

[Editor’s Note: Last week I mentioned Rep. Jim Clyburn’s outreach to black bloggers to help shape the message as we head into the 2010 Midterm elections. Well, my blog cousin Danielle Belton aka The Black Snob attended the event. Do check out her recap and share your thoughts.]

And he did it with a history lesson.

In a fiery presser on Capitol Hill Thursday where he at times seemed visibly frustrated, South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn blasted members of the Democratic base who were withdrawing support, money during the Midterm elections. He said those Liberal and progressive critics who get stuck on things like the health care bill not being exactly what they wanted lose sight of the long battle.

“I don’t understand this notion that if I can’t get everything right now then there’s no tomorrow,” Clyburn said.

Clyburn was holding an on-the-record chat with black bloggers, invited to his office at the Capitol, the latest high profile interaction a member of the Democratic Party has made in an effort to reach out to the African American online community to build support for candidates in the contentious midterms where the Democrats face losing their majorities in Congress.

Democrats and President Obama have received criticism from the left for the health care legislation, which they charged did not go far enough. Some are now abandoning their support, leading Clyburn to decry their actions. Pointing out that if members of the pro-civil rights coalition had stopped supporting pro-civil rights candidates simply because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t contain everything they wanted — a provision on protecting the right to vote by getting rid of literacy tests and poll taxes — the movement would have dissolved.

The 1964 Act did not cover voting rights in order to insure passage. It only outlawed discrimination in the private sector.

“Some said we rather not have any bill at all if you take voting (rights) out,” he said. “There was a split among the Civil Rights community … But (President) Johnson had the votes so he went for it.”

Clyburn argued that Liberals need to have the long-view.

“(President Lyndon) Johnson said a half a loaf is better than no loaf at all,” Clyburn said.

In 1964, Johnson was up for election against Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, a hardline, anti-civil rights conservative from Arizona. With the help of activists and supporters, Johnson won the campaign, Democrats took majorities in Congress. With their wins came the passage of a multitude of bills that helped the African American community and poor people — from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Great Society Plan — the latter of which that would go on to be expanded under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

“Suppose those people who walked off the field said I’m not going to vote (in 1964),” Clyburn asked. “We didn’t walk off the field. We defeated (Barry) Goldwater.”

Clyburn said for young people to become disillusioned and give up support for the President and Democrats now was irresponsible.

“Give me a break. How foolish is that,” he said.

Clyburn also launched into a passionate and at times defiant defense of the Congressional Black Caucus against criticism that they haven’t done enough for African Americans.

“There are 41 African Americans in our caucus and you don’t get to 218 (a majority vote in Congress) without us. We’re busting out butts out there to get to 218,” he said. “We passed the black farmer’s bill five times! We passed the damn bill! But (the CBC) ain’t in the Senate. Y’all ought to be camped out at the Senate, but you keep coming around here asking what are you doing? What are you doing?”

The representative was referring to the fact that the House has been successful at passing legislation that was part of the President’s agenda, as well as legislation that helps African Americans, but in many cases those bills have been tied up in the Senate. He also pointed how money for historically black colleges and universities, as well as community colleges was passed in the health care bill due to reconciliation.

“The Black Caucus did that!” he said.

Clyburn then broke down what people stood to lose if Congress changed hands. Pointing out the many leadership positions members of the Congressional Black Caucus hold in Congress and how all stood to lose those leadership positions to conservatives, and in some of those cases hardliners like Rep. Peter King of New York. These are committee leadership positions that deal with civil rights, justice and homeland security.

“Stay off the field if you want to,” Clyburn said, then warned. “Those who fail to learn lessons about history are bound to repeat them.

“You can walk away because you got everything you want,” he said, now pushing back against traditional Dem donors who were holding their purse strings. “George Soros, I don’t know him, but he’s giving $100 million to some humanities group because he’s angry. We lose this election there’s not going to be much humanity left.”

It was then, towards the middle of the session, Clyburn pointed to the old black and white portraits that lined the wall behind him. They were of the past black members of the South Carolina Congressional delegation behind. These were the black men who represented South Carolina after the Civil War. Clyburn points out that from the last elected man on the wall 97 years passed before another black person was elected to represent his home state again.

“If it happened before it could happen again,” he warned.