It was very appropriate on Thanksgiving Day to have the opportunity to watch an array of Congressional Black Caucus members at Williams College in Massachusetts hosted by Gov. Deval Patrick to discuss the CBC and President Obama.
Not only were they thankful for the prospect of having an opportunity to visit the White House for the first time in eight years, but any viewer who had lived through the past 40 years had to realize the unfulfilled dreams brought to life by their combined presence.
Sobering was the subtext of the panel discussion: how would they moderate their expectations of the administration as if African-Americans are not just as entitled as any other Americans to petition their government.
Rep. John Lewis, D-GA, replied that they knew how to pace themselves. He will be the president of all America, Lewis noted, not just black America.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-SC, noted that the wish list from the Black Caucus is broadly advantageous to the entire populace.
Clyburn as majority whip, the third ranking member in the House, and committee chairs like Danny Davis, D-IL, House District Committee; Bennie Thompson, House Homeland Security Committee; Charles Rangel, House Ways and Means Committee; and John Conyers, House Judiciary Committee plus the new Black Caucus chair Rep. Barbara Lee, D-CA have all had the judgment to embrace a broad agenda as legislative leaders.
Of course, there is the pressure from the grass roots who turned out in large numbers for the combination of black governors, legislators and now a friendly face in the White House to make something happen.
Pressed for detailed ideas, they raised the issues of excessive incarceration, health disparities and immigration.
The reality is that it will be unlikely that an Obama administration will step into the minefield of race in its initial years. He lost the majority of white voters in 2008. It will be even more unlikely for the Black Caucus to push him into those land mines.
They remember how they were used in Republican TV ads in 1994 to end Democratic control of Congress.
For African-Americans, a government that is competent with managers who understand that they work for all the American people is a step of major proportions, compared with the last eight years. The caucus members will be well advised to focus on the detailed minutiae of such measures as No Child Left Behind, foreclosure relief and stimulus legislation, plus the Katrina recovery program to insure that the people who need help actually get it. As committee chairs, they are hiring the staff who actually draft the legislation.
No longer in the wilderness, they can focus on implementation.