“Excellent speech,” said Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), on Tuesday as he entered a House Democratic Caucus meeting featuring White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Bishop was quick to respond positively on what he thought of the President’s commencement address at Morehouse College.
“If people want to have something to critique that’s fine. I thought it was an excellent speech — one of his best speeches,” Bishop elaborated. As the first Black President of the United States continues to walk the tightrope of being in that role, some say he has “talked down” to African Americans in a way he would not do with others.
Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) watched the speech on Sunday in its entirety. Clay wasn’t interested in the flap involving Rev. Kevin Johnson or any other criticisms of Obama’s message to the Morehouse graduates.
“The speech was an uplifting — it talked to our community about what we need to do and what we need to address in order to get us on course to be successful and be progressive. He hit all of the salient points about what the ills of our community are. If we can’t talk about those problems well then who can?” Clay added emphatically.
“We need to stop. Please let’s stop pontificating and BS-ing,” Clay added.
“Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) who was at the Morehouse graduation in person. Several members remarked that a graduation was not exactly the place for detailed policy pronouncements. It’s a day that should be focused on the graduates.
Johnson generally praised the President’s speech. But he wondered out loud whether, “should we have kept this in a closed door setting. As I look at the headlines out here I ask should we have talked about this in a closed setting verses an open setting.”
“I don’t think it should be private. I think it’s the role of every single one of us,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) commenting generally on that question as she made her way to question Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a House hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
“If we don’t do it who’s going to do it? Why would we be ashamed of a problem that is so clear? Everyone knows it?” Wilson said.
“I think that he said everything that needed to be said — he spoke to hearts and souls of those young brothers,” said Rep. John
Lewis (D-GA). “Anything that the President of the United States says it’s not going to be private. You can’t sweep the issues confronting Black America under the rug or in some dark corner. They need to be out in the light for all of us to deal with it. For white and black — we’re all in the same boat,” Lewis said.
Lewis was asked about whether the President should in general be more focused in the needs of Black Americans. “He has three more years,” said Lewis. “We’re all in the same boat,” Lewis added. “We’re not going to make any progress together in American unless we make it together,” Lewis concluded.
Several Black members of Congress have been critical of the President over various issues over his first term. But when it came to the specific question of the President’s Morehouse commencement address, five members Congress commented positively. There are currently 45 Black members of the 113th Congress.
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist, comms strategist and political analyst. She created Crewof42, which focuses on African American members of Congress, in 2009. Ms. Burke has written for NBC BLK, The Root, NNPA, The Hill and Politic365. As part of a career in politics and media, she has served as a congressional staffer for the U.S. Senate Democratic Policy Committee, as Communications Director for U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) and as Director of Communications for Justin Fairfax during his historic 2017 statewide campaign. Ms. Burke was also a weekly guest on NewsOneNow with Roland Martin on TVOne from 2014 to 2017 and has appeared on MSNBC. Ms. Burke holds a B.A. in History from The American University. Email: LBurke007@gmail.com. Twitter: @LVBurke.