The NYT raises the question of the future of the CBC at an interesting point. If anything the support of high profile members like Donald Payne and Bobby Rush for Roland Burris highlights the chasm between their brand of politics and that of the incoming President.
But,it also underscored the way Obama's election has obscured folks vision of the world around them. On election day millions of black people went to the polls. And then went back home. To a largely black neighborhood in a largely black congressional district in a significantly black state like Ohio, Michigan, Alabama, Georgia or Illinois. to quote an former professor of mine, "demography is destiny." Nate Silver's piece why there are no black senators is a depressing or at the least sobering reminder of what has not changed in America as of November 4th. The key point is:
The districts these 39 Congressmen serve, however, are not very representative at all. All 39 contain a higher percentage of African-Americans than the population as a whole, ranging from Keith Ellison's district in Minneapolis, which is just barely more black than the national average, to Jesse Jackson Jr.'s on the South Side of Chicago, which is 68 percent African-American. About 64 percent of the members -- 25 of 39 -- come from districts that contain an outright black majority. The districts are also much more Democratic than the country as a whole, with an average PVI of D +25; only Sanford Bishop's district in Georgia, which has a PVI of D+2, is anywhere close to the national average.
There's a difference between "change" and change-of-address. There was not a great migration on November 4th and the jury is still out on whether Obama's victory signals an era in which black candidates will fair better with largely white electorates (let's see if Harold Ford runs for governor as a trial balloon.)
On one level, there's a good reason to read the differences between the CBC and Obama during the primaries (and likely during his administration as well) as a product of the fact that very, very few black Congressional reps have districts that, to quote Bill Clinton, "look like America." They supported Clinton on the basis of her husband's longstanding ties in the black community and then found themselves stranded once Bill started his red-faced fairy-tale review.
The irony of course is that many of those same reps faced backlash within their districts for not supporting Obama given the fact that African American voters were slow to warm to Obama in the first place.
And when you add in the fact that so few states have a combination of significant black populace and at least moderate political inclinations, you almost understand why Rush and Waters, Payne, et al went all out for the half-seat that Burris may hold. (Moderate politics are important since blacks showed in Ohio, MD and PA that they will not likely vote for Republican -- we're talking almost exclusively about Democratic prospects here.)
All this points (yet again) to the fallacy of postracial politics but also to a continued viability of the CBC. Barring some unforeseen factor (wildly new redistricting or some combination of gentrification and black suburbanization) they have a constituency that is every bit as immobile, stable and optionless as the customers for the local check cashing joint.