11/16/2010 12:34 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Congressional Black Caucus Should Remind Nancy Pelosi She's on Shaky Ground

There's not a snowball's chance in Hades that soon to be former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won't be calling the shots for House Democratic leaders in the next Congress. But the Congressional Black Caucus is right publicly to tweak Pelosi for the James Clyburn affair. Clyburn, of course is a ranking African-American House member, former chair of the CBC, and one of the most visible, outspoken, and influential Democratic House leaders. But Clyburn, as most now know, was summarily shoved aside in his bid for Minority Whip and the post given to Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) It was congressional pro forma deal making, back room maneuvering, and horse trading driven by the big fear that if too much is made of a Clyburn fight over the post, Democrats run the grave risk of racial splits, party divisions, disunity, and more fodder for Limbaugh to tar the Democrats as bigoted and hypocritical.

So Pelosi worked out the deal to make Clyburn "assistant leader" and he, despite a few mostly show grumblings, quickly fell in line. The CBC will agree to the deal too, but its mild protest over it will, unfortunately for Pelosi and House Democrats, only add to the throbbing headaches for Pelosi, House Democrats, and ultimately, President Obama. One is Pelosi and her leadership, or more particularly what she represents. She's a double edged sword for the Democrats. She is the most forceful, effective, and politically adept and productive top House Democrat in recent times. She is also the most polarizing, vilified, and near casting-call GOP prop to whiplash the Democrats as an irresponsible, out of touch, and public-be-damned party. Pelosi as the most effective House Democrat and the most polarizing House Democrat creates a dilemma for the White House.

President Obama can't afford to have her, and he can't afford not to have her. She's a political liability, and a political asset. But it doesn't much matter whether her worth as an asset outbalances the liability. She's not going anywhere, and the administration will have to make do with her as its main voice in the House.

There's the second problem. Race. It's always there, and not just there in national politics, public attitudes, and divisions. It's there in Congress too. The Clyburn flap was a textbook example of that. He became an issue not because he's black and the CBC was piqued that he seemed to be as Limbaugh giddily put it shoved to the back of the bus. It became an issue because of what he and the fight to get him in a top House Leadership position symbolizes. The Congressional Black Caucus's loyalty to the Democratic Party has been unshakeable for four decades. It has backed and often times taken the lead in the fight for every piece of substantive legislation on education, health, employment, and even foreign policy that has had major impact on the nation's well-being. The caucus has refused to be bullied, badgered, and steam-rolled by the GOP. It has prodded, cajoled, exhorted, and rallied black voters to keep the faith with the Democratic Party, despite the monumental sense of apathy, alienation and even hostility from many black voters that the Democrats have been weak, tepid, and at times non-existent when it comes to fighting for black interests.

The Clyburn flap was not a case of massaging race or hurt feelings. It was recognition that Pelosi, and House Democrats, and the White House won't get very far in the next Congress, which will be even more warlike in doing everything it can to ridicule, torpedo, subvert anything that House Democrats and the White House puts on the congressional legislative table without its resoluteness.

That's not all. There's 2012. Pelosi and the White House, to put bluntly, will need the CBC to play a key role in holding the line in Congress against the GOP assault on the White House's initiatives and the president, and to play an even more aggressive role in revving up the party's African-American base for Obama's reelection bid, and to gain or at least not lose any more Democratic congressional seats.
The CBC reminded Pelosi that black Democrats are more than just ornamental window dressing. Now they must keep reminding her of that and one other thing. She and her leadership are on even shakier ground than ever.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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