MM: We’re not on the front page of the paper because in many respects, the objective of civil rights was to help African Americans achieve mainstream positioning, whether it was in the government, whether it was in the elected sphere, whether it was in the mainstream of journalism, whether it was in the corporate suites or city halls.
To some extent, we’ve had a great deal of success in helping people achieve mainstream positions in American life. I spent most of my career in that sort of focused area: running a city, being in a legislature and being in a mainstream law firm. In the 1950s and ’60s, when you thought of African-American leaders, the only thing you’d think of was outside the mainstream — activists. What is reflected today is that black leadership is much, much broader … The number of visible public spokespeople has really, really changed.
TR: The information on your website is all about jobs and economic empowerment. But considering the current recession, what impact do you think you’re having on national policy?
MM: I thought at the beginning of the Obama administration that we had a great deal of impact on the structure and design of the stimulus [package]; we had a great deal of impact in helping the passage of health reform and bank reform.
We needed a health bill. Finally we had a chance. We had a president that would put his neck out, and we put tremendous effort behind passage of that legislation, influencing Congress. [Take] bank reform, which includes provisions against predatory lending. We had a great deal of impact, supportive impact on the passage of legislation.
What has changed, I think, is the backlash of the right. It has been very well organized, very systematized. It’s been a coherent message coming from the right in the minds of the Tea Party. You see it being played out by the [right’s] utilization of the debt [ceiling] limit to elevate a budget-cut scenario. That has changed the dynamic very dramatically in a two-year period. We’re in a bit of a defensive posture trying to protect the things that are important to us.
TR: Do you feel that you have less influence on the Obama administration now than two years ago?