I went to hear Obama speak with Harold Ford yesterday - a great event and he's a great speaker--very thoughtful, tells a longer story then he probably needs to but he and Ford both represent something important, if difficult to define, about the future of American politics. In a roundabout way, I think what I'm sensing there, and excited about, is that 2006 elections will mark the beginning of the end of the religious right as a powerful cohesive force. I really believe that. But, I digress.
Obama quoted one of my favorite sayings of Dr. King, that the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice (yeah yeah i had to edit this to come at least close to the actual quote). And there is one element of this election that has been under-estimated in importance as the Democrats are poised to re-take the House of Representatives--a historic additional victory that finally brings many of the struggles of the past to fruition. African-Americans will not just have a voice in the 06-07 Congress. They will have a gavel to go with it. When the Democrats take over, much has been made of Nancy Pelosi becoming the first woman Speaker of the House, but here's something else. John Conyers will lead the House Judiciary Committee. Charles Wrangel will head the Ways and Means Committee. Bennie Thompson should head the Homeland Security Committee. Many believe Alcee Hastings will chair the Intelligence Committee. Juanita Millender-McDonald is first in line to chair the House Administration Committee. Shelia Jackson-Lee will chair the Border Security subcommittee in the House Judiciary committee. Eddie Bernice Johnson will chair the Water and Environiment subcommittee of the Transportation Committee. Major Owens will chair the Workforce Protections subcommittee of the Education and the Workforce Committee. Bobby Scott will chair the Crime, terrorism and Homeland Security subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.
That's 5 major committees that will likely be led by black Americans, Democrats who have paid their dues, waded through the years and years of experience it takes to gain the seniority needed. Do you know what the Republican chairmen of the current Congress look like? 21 white men out of 21. The next House will have a woman speaker and a woman (Louise Slaughter) will head the important Rules Committee. A gay (proudly, not closeted-hypocritical) man will chair the Finance Services Committee. A Hispanic woman (Nydia Valasquez) will chair the Small Business Committee. And those 5 African-American Committee chairpersons, 2 more than have ever served in that capacity for a session in the history of the country combined.
Whatever else happens - assuming the House changes hands - Democrats will surely be looking to the future for a new generation of leadership, but at the same time, what will also be realized is this further victory of the Civil Rights movement, many years in the making. Minority voices won't just be compelling our country's leadership, but will become our leadership in Congress.