Every so often an op-ed from Republican political consultant Raynard Jackson hits my inbox and I post about them (“Black Republican consultant scorches Virginia GOP” and “Op-ed on black Republicans tells it like it is.”). I wondered when he might comment on the election of Michael Steele to head up the RNC. Given that some of the worst race-baiting in memory occurred in the last election cycle, it’s no surprise the party was scrambling to figure out how to handle opposing the first black president. It almost elected a stone-cold color-aroused candidate, Katon Dawson, who, quite frankly, would have made it very easy to dismiss the Republican party for a long time to come — Dawson was a member of an all-white country club until last year.
I called Steele’s ascension “window dressing.” Essentially Raynard Jackson, who knows Steele, fears this could be the case as well.
I have known Michael Steele for many, many years and consider him to be a friend. I have watched him persevere through many ups and downs. His will to succeed is unquestioned. Becoming chairman was the easy part.
Managing people’s expectations of him and his chairmanship is the more difficult task. Black Republicans are going to expect him to right all the wrongs in the party when it comes to their participation. Whites are going to expect him to be colorblind.
…Steele is not the Black chairman of the party. He is chairman of the party! But, they are not mutually exclusive. The main reason he won the race for chairman is the party needed a fresh face and a good communicator. On that basis, Steele was far and away the best candidate. But, there is another reason that you won’t hear discussed in polite company. The Obama effect.
Republicans were terrified of having a white party chairman criticizing the first Black president of the U.S. This is a silly argument if the criticisms were based on issues, not innuendo (“palling around with terrorist”). This was the sentiment expressed to me by several members of the national committee after Steele’s election.
I understand the political realities of this thinking, but the visual of Steele criticizing our first Black president makes me a little uncomfortable. Even if it is done totally on the issues. This is the PR side of me. Steele has to be extremely careful of how he navigates between the Black and white worlds of Republican politics.
And quite frankly, that’s why I feel for Steele on some level. He’s got an awful job ahead of him and it’s pretty clear the base of the party, as well as some of the fossilized racist thinking in party leadership, are likely to rebel against any concrete moves by Steele to change things. More below the fold.In order for Steele to succeed on any level in terms of actual change in diversity of thinking in party leadership, he has to have power. Will they give it to him?
The first true sign of how Steele will handle this dilemma will be who he hires on his personal staff and those in key positions within the committee. Will any of the top positions be filled with a Black person(s)? Positions like chief of staff, political director, press secretary, or finance director.
If the answer is no, then my greatest fear will have been realized. If the answer is yes, will Steele give them the authority (budgetary and hiring) to do what needs to be done. Just like many think Steel is a fresh face and voice for the party, he has to bring fresh faces and voices to the committee’s staff. Typically Blacks have been left out of these positions and never given any consideration.
Will a new face truly bring new ideas and approaches inside the committee’s power structure? Will Steele call the party out when they use race baiting and race politics? Or will he try to be diplomatic or excuse their use?
Though he is chairman of the national party, he has an obligation to speak directly to Black Republicans about their role and future in the party in very specific terms. Will Black Republicans finally be given a chance to get consulting contracts from the committee, will they be considered for key jobs within the committee and on Capitol Hill? Will they finally be brought into policy discussions? These are just a few questions that Steele needs to address immediately.
As with President Obama, Steele doesn’t get a pass from the Black community in order to prove to whites that he is “color blind.” We are more sophisticated than to expect him to cater to all of our parochial concerns. But, we do expect him to acknowledge his Blackness by speaking directly to us and telling us where we fit into his plans. The model for this approach is former secretary of state Colin Powell.
Well, perhaps Jackson may get a bone thrown to him by Steele for remaining in the party wilderness; the club of black Republicans is small, and in too many visible cases its members suffer from delusional thinking and utter lack of credibility (see Project 21 and Jesse Lee Peterson). Steele’s challenge is not only to rehab the party’s image by appearing on TV as a fresh dab of color, but to actually command a meaningful change agenda when it comes to diversity, and I don’t know if the good old boys in that party are ready to deal with that. It would require the GOP to be willing to jettison the votes represented by the racist McCain mobs/David Duke faction of the party. I personally don’t think they can do it, because the Republican party would have to remake itself in regards to policy to attract minorities back into the fold in significant enough numbers.
The reaction of the fringe right to Steele’s initial toe-dips into the media post-election haven’t exactly rested well with them, so it will be interesting to see how and when he caves to this crowd. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council recently appeared on Liberty Radio with Matt Bam Bam Barber to issue his dismay (see Good As You). And heaven forbid, the tepid statement Steele issued on Faux News that the GOP “needs to do a better job of reaching out” to pro-choice and pro-gay voices caused a serious freakout in the swamps of Freeperland.