Rep. James Clyburn has seen a lot change in his 71 years — in his native South Carolina and the country. The son of “an activist fundamentalist minister and an independent civic-minded beautician,” as he describes them in his official bio, is the assistant Democratic leader in the 112th Congress and No. 3 Democrat in the House, where he has served since 1993.
The 2010 midterm elections saw his party lose the House majority it had gained in 2006, when he was majority whip. After the defeat of Rep. John Spratt, Clyburn is the lone Democrat among his state’s two senators and six House members. And as legislating becomes increasingly partisan, Clyburn — as one of the 12 “super committee” members — must help shape $1.2 trillion in budget-balancing cuts by Thanksgiving.
Despite the challenges that he and his party face, Clyburn was in a positive mood after a recent tour of Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., where the Democratic National Convention will be held next September. “I believe that this convention is going prove to be one of the best ever,” he said. “There seems to be sort of a hominess about it. Definitely you can feel it in this arena … I’ve been a delegate since 1972. You can kind of feel things.”
He was in Charlotte for a meeting of the 21st Century Council, a program of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute that brings together business, political and other leaders to research policy issues and present solutions. The CBC will return to Charlotte during convention week to sponsor a town hall at the city’s HBCU, Johnson C. Smith University.
In a suite overlooking the arena floor, he told The Root that his parents — Republicans who joined “the party of Lincoln” — would be Democrats today (“They never met Newt Gingrich”). He also spoke about Obama’s 2012 chances in the South and what he thinks of Herman Cain.
The Root: Will President Obama win in 2012?
James Clyburn: Yes. One generic poll had Democrats in Congress up by eight over Republicans; another had us up by four. This was [two weeks ago,] when everybody was saying Democrats were dead in the water. [There are polls] with the president wiping [Rick] Perry out, had him against Herman Cain. Romney ran within two points, with the president ahead of Romney. We’re 13 months out. I remember 13 months out when Bill Clinton was the incumbent. He was losing to Bob Dole or to anybody the Republicans put up.
When people sit down and all of a sudden there’s a nominee on the other side, and one of these two guys is going to be president, the question is, do we want to stay on course with what we’ve got? The country is moving in the right direction.
This whole notion, saying that the president is to blame for this economy, then my question is, if you go 2.1 million jobs in the hole over the three months just before he became president and then you reverse that trend … nobody can say that this economy is worse than it was three years ago. Nobody can say that and tell the truth. All presidents have a learning curve. Obama is a good president; he has the potential to be a great president.