The House Ways and Means Committee is one of the most powerful perches on which to sit in Washington. The Constitution requires that tax legislation be initiated in the House and Ways and Means is where the nation's tax legislation originates.
It doesn't push the imagination to think that we might not want a guy with $90,000 of bribe money sitting in his freezer on this committee.
However, a turn up the high road and stepping aside in the interest of nation, party, and constituents, even when the handwriting is on the wall, didn't tempt Jefferson.
The only Hail Mary left was to hunker down around claims that this was about race, and unfortunately, this is where Jefferson and the Black Caucus chose to go. Doing this served only to fan the flames of racial tensions and encourage destructive sentiments in the black community that come to no productive end.
Why, these black leaders have asked, has this unprecedented move, asking an unindicted member to step off a committee, occurred with a member of Congress who happens to be black?
But it is behavior, not race, that is operative here.
Jefferson also suddenly discovered his responsibility to his constituents in his efforts to salvage himself. He said they need him now on the Ways and Means Committee as hurricane ravaged New Orleans tries to rebuild.
But where has he been for the 16 years he has been representing them? An appalled nation watched during Katrina as cameras exposed the squalid realities of black life in New Orleans. Who looked for their black congressman to explain why the levees weren't improved and why crime and poverty had reached such hopeless levels in this community?
Mr. Jefferson was busy making deals in Africa, happy to sit quietly on the sidelines and let local problems be explained by racism.
Blacks have to stop tolerating this. Race must be transformed into a reason to demand more responsibility and set higher stands rather than the opposite, which is what we now get from our black leaders.
Let's hope the Jefferson incident goes beyond its particulars and provokes a new awareness in black America for the kind of leaders we really need.
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