In some corners of the African-American community, any criticism of President Obama, whom many revere more like a messiah than a mere man, is the equivalent of a cardinal sin. And until just recently, Black lawmakers in Washington were loath to utter a word against him. But this summer, as the Congressional Black Caucus held job fairs and town hall meetings in Black communities experiencing some of the highest unemployment rates, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) made national headlines for publically accusing the president of not focusing enough on the issue and implored voters to “unleash” lawmakers so they could challenge him to feel their pain, which elicited cheers.
Her plea didn’t sit well with some people, however, and during this week’s dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, one woman from Racine, Wisconsin, told Politico that “Maxine Waters needs to shut up.”
But as the same report notes, Waters, whom some have nicknamed “Kerosene Maxine,” has honed a reputation for always speaking her mind, and the election of the nation’s first Black president isn’t about to end a habit honed over a political lifetime. She made headlines again with her response to the president’s admonishment to the CBC to take off their bedroom slippers and march with him during its September gala dinner when she said, “I don’t know who he was talking to.”
Administration officials called Waters’ office to complain, Politico reports, and “discounted her as a perennial malcontent.”
According to off-the-record sources who spoke to the publication, the clash is attributed to generational differences between an old-school lawmaker who “cut her political teeth” in the sixties and a “member of the first post-civil rights generation, where equal opportunity was largely expected rather than fought for with marches and protests.”
But Waters’ veracity has in the past served the administration well, most notably when she rallied Black lawmakers who sit on the House Financial Services Committee to ensure that legislation to reform Wall Street included a provision for an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion at each federal financial agency and department, to promote diversity and ensure that minorities and others would never again be victims of predatory mortgage lending practices that led to the 2008 financial meltdown. Without her support, the bill would never have made it out of the committee process and successfully voted for on the House floor.
Despite their differences, Kerman Maddox, a California-based political consultant who has worked for both Waters and Obama, told Politico, “each side understands the big picture: they must work together for [the president’s] re-election.”
And although Waters says she doesn’t have a relationship with the White House, Maddox added, “I suspect she will put out her [mailers, she will visit churches, she will do what Maxine Waters does best, and that is, turn out African-American voters for Barack Obama.”
(Photos from left: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, UPI Photo/Roger L. Wollenberg /Landov)