Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel Cleaver said if it weren't for President Barack Obama, members of his caucus would be "marching on the White House" in anger over the high unemployment rate for black Americans, but don't want to do anything that would empower Obama's detractors.
"If [former President] Bill Clinton had been in the White House and had failed to address this problem, we probably would be marching on the White House," the Missouri Democrat told McClatchy Newspapers in an interview Sunday. "There is a less-volatile reaction in the CBC because nobody wants to do anything that would empower the people who hate the president."
Indeed, when lawmakers swarmed around Obama as he was leaving the House of Representatives chamber following his recent speech on jobs, caucus members were in the crush, eager for a handshake, a pat on the shoulder or an autograph.
"This is an unprecedented circumstance where an African-American president who is an iconic, heroic figure enjoys a status with African-Americans that no one since Martin Luther King has enjoyed," said former congressman Artur Davis of Alabama, who was a member of the black caucus until leaving office a year ago.
Certain members of the caucus have attracted controversy in recent weeks -- in August, Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) said members of the Tea Party would like to see blacks "hanging on a tree," the same month Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said the Tea Party could "go straight to hell."
Cleaver himself told the National Journal earlier this week, "I am convinced, irreversibly, that the lack of civility is causing most of the problems we have in our government" -- one month after criticizing the August debt deal as "a sugar-coated Satan sandwich."
"It's tough," Cleaver said. "I'm chairing a group of people who are former mayors and state senators and judges. I'm trying to develop a very aggressive agenda. But Maxine Waters represents central Los Angeles first and she has to represent her constituents first and she's going to say things in order to represent them."
Still, Waters has not entirely held back her criticism of Obama: She expressed her disappointment when he did not visit any black communities during his bus tour in August, and at the same time scolded a crowd for not putting pressure on him because they "love" him.
"It's not personal," Cleaver said. "They're attacking his policies, or lack thereof, with regard to this gigantic unemployment problem among African-Americans. If we can't criticize a black president, then it's all over."