It’s possible that after the bitter campaign for House Speaker ended on January 7th, Americans – especially Black Americans – felt a strong sense of déjà vu.
New York Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries provided a masterclass on leadership and served up a clear reminder of what an up-and-coming senator from Illinois named Barack Obama once did during a divided America.
“Progress asserted itself tonight, manifested in [Hakeem] Jeffries, even amidst a hostile takeover of the House by neo–fascists,” Jason Randolph of Vote.org commented.
Randolph said Jeffries delivered “what’s likely the best political speech not given by Obama in generations.”
On July 27, 2004, during the Democratic National Convention in Boston, a 42-year-old Barack Obama, who a few months earlier won a Senate primary in Illinois, spoke eloquently and inspiringly about the divide facing America.
“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of ‘anything goes,’” Obama asserted.
“Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”
Nineteen years later, in 2023 where many say politics are as divisive and dangerous as ever, Jeffries, 52, channeled Obama by providing a masterclass on leadership.
He called for “maturity over Mar-a-Lago,” a direct shot at new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s praise of Trump.
Throughout Jeffries’ speech, Trump supporting Republicans jeered while Democrats rose to applaud the Brooklyn born congressman.
Jeffries smoothly went through the alphabet to capture all the ails America, and what’s needed to repair the divided nation.
“House Democrats will always put American values over autocracy, benevolence over bigotry, the Constitution over the cult, democracy over demagogues,” Jeffries asserted.
“Freedom over fascism, governing over gaslighting, hopefulness over hatred quality of life issues over Q’Anon, reason over racism, substance over slander, triumph over tyranny, understanding over ugliness, and voting rights over voter suppression.”
Earlier, the Republican Party did, in fact, select a speaker, albeit grudgingly; however, given the 15 rounds it took for McCarthy to secure the necessary votes, it’s possible that his tenure as speaker won’t last.
Whether or not McCarthy remains speaker, his ascension to the top post in the chamber is unlikely to be remembered as the 118th Congress’ defining moment.
McCarthy, despite multiple defeats before winning the speakership race and his previous condemnation of former President Trump’s role in the 2021 insurrection, still praised Trump.
The person elected to lead Congress and look out for America’s best interests praised an alleged would-be over thrower of the U.S. government just two years and one day after the Trump-inspired insurrection in which several lives were lost.
Although a congressional committee recommended criminal charges and numerous members of Trump’s inner circle testified to the committee about the former president’s guilt.
McCarthy, upon being presented with the speaker’s gavel, remarked, “I do want to especially thank President Trump.”
“Do not doubt, in my opinion; in fact, no one should doubt his influence. He was with me from the beginning. So, thank you, President Trump.
However, two years earlier, McCarthy held that “the President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
McCarthy’s moments aside, many people who watched the inauguration of the 118th Congress said that Jeffries, the first African American to lead a major political party in Congress, demonstrated true leadership.
“McCarthy’s speech should have contained some of the words Jeffries spoke,” Dean Obeidallah, a lawyer and host of a self-titled SiriusXM show, opined.
“[McCarthy] should have made it clear he denounces autocracy, fascism and the grave threats facing our democracy by Trump and the MAGA wing of the Republican Party,” Obeidallah insisted.
The radio host wasn’t alone.
“Rep. Hakeem Jeffries speaks truth to power,” declared attorney Ben Crump.
“Politicians must remember that they represent U.S. All of us. Let’s encourage our lawmakers to work together and pass policy that helps all American people and that preserves our democratic form of government,” Crump said.
“This is what leadership looks like, sounds like and does,” podcaster Chris Hahn tweeted.
Strategist Steve Schmidt added, “The early morning hours of January 7 marked the rise of a new American leader: Hakeem Jeffries. The thunderclap was the magnificence of his voice rising in defense of the American creed and his taking his place in a long line of liberty’s defenders.”
Actor Rob Reiner simplified the outpouring of accolades resulting from Jeffries’ speech.
“A star is born,” Reiner declared.
Co-author of Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway and her son, Stevie Wonder (Simon & Schuster) and Michael Jackson: The Man Behind The Mask, An Insider’s Account of the King of Pop (Select Books Publishing, Inc.) My work can often be found in the Washington Informer, Baltimore Times, Philadelphia Tribune, Pocono Record, the New York Post, and Black Press USA.