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Tilting at Windmills

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January 30, 2009

CHAIRMAN STEELE.... It took six ballots, but former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele edged out South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, 91 votes to 77, to become the new chairman of the Republican National Committee. Steele is the first African American to hold the post.

Steele's victory also marks a decision by some GOP leaders that to elect a man associated with an all-white country club -- when America just elected a black president, and the GOP itself runs a risk of being branded an all-white club -- was too big a risk to run.

Steele ran in large part on his ability to rebrand the party and to do battle on cable news. Though he is, in fact, quite conservative for the spectrum of American politics, he wasn't the conservative choice, and his win marks a real defeat for elements of the party's conservative wing. For younger Republicans and those seeking a dramatic break from the past, he was the choice, and his win suggests that the party is emerging from the phase of denying that, in the wake of its 2008 rout, it has a problem.

This was Steele's second attempt at the RNC gig, after a failed campaign in 2006, scuttled in part by Karl Rove, who was rumored to have questioned Steele's competence.

I suspect most Democrats didn't necessarily have a "favorite" among the RNC contenders, but Steele probably won't strike fear in the hearts of DNC members. We are, after all, talking about a man who got caught hiring homeless people to lie to voters, and nevertheless lost in a landslide.

Indeed, whenever I see Steele, I immediately think of the editorial the Washington Post ran on his U.S. Senate candidacy in 2006, which described Steele as a man of "no achievement, no record, no evidence and certainly no command of the issues." Noting his four-year tenure as Maryland's lieutenant governor, the Post added, "Steele had at best a marginal impact, even on his handpicked projects."

While Dems may be pleased with Steele's new position, the religious right movement is no doubt frustrated, again. After the Dobson crowd exerted no influence at all over the Republican presidential nominating fight a year ago, the religious right took a stand against Steele, noting his one-time association with the centrist Republican Leadership Council. Their opposition was meaningless.

As for the racial aspect of this, Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer noted a few weeks ago, "There certainly is an advantage of a credible message of inclusion if you have a minority as chairman."

That may be true, but I'm skeptical. The modern Republican Party's problems with race are systemic, and won't be resolved by the race of its national party chair. For that matter, the GOP's structural problems -- its ideas are unpopular, its policies have failed, and its agenda is out of sync with the nation's needs -- are so deep, "historical resonance" is largely inconsequential.

And perhaps most importantly, no one should exaggerate the significance of the RNC chair. A couple of years ago, Bush tapped Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, a Cuban-American, as chairman of the RNC. Refresh my memory: did that have any impact whatsoever on outreach to Latino voters? Did it make the party seem more inclusive and diverse? I don't think so.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Comments

They just lost 2010?

Posted by: JY on January 30, 2009 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

I'M more cynical. They now have their token black...thinking this will get them black votes...which I believe the party of hypocrisy made that the only reason to vote for him...he's black.

Posted by: bjobotts on January 30, 2009 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

As for the racial aspect of this, Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer noted a few weeks ago, "There certainly is an advantage of a credible message of inclusion if you have a minority as chairman."
That may be true, but I'm skeptical. The modern Republican Party's problems with race are systemic, and won't be resolved by the race of its national party chair.

It actually does send a message of inclusion, which will be rendered virtually meaningless by two things:

--The election of Steele at this moment is hamhandedly obvious us-tooism coming right after Obama's election.
--The GOP won't do anything else message-wise, and certainly nothing policy-wise, to expand that inclusion. Instead, they'll constantly hold up Steele as "proof" of their changed ways while the Congressional Black Caucus continues to have 0 members, tools like Chip Saltsman continue to openly race bait and GOP policies continue to turn off people of color.

Posted by: shortstop on January 30, 2009 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Oops, that should have been "the Congressional Black Caucus continues to have 0 Republican members."

Posted by: shortstop on January 30, 2009 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

As an African American myself, blacks will see through that. It's nothing but pandering. Their ideology will never change when it comes to minorities.

Posted by: JY on January 30, 2009 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

They've got nothing. They've got nobody. They're screwed. Why anyone imagines we need to gun up for some big intractable fight with them is beyond me. Give them a fair chance to join the adults if they want, but then deny them the fight they require. If no one's trying to screw them over, they'll have nothing to talk about and will just look like idiots with their thumbs up their rears.

Personally, I think they should have just made Limbaugh the chair and get it out in the open. He'd probably do a better job than Steele, too.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on January 30, 2009 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP won't do anything else message-wise, and certainly nothing policy-wise, to expand that inclusion - shortstop

So true. But just watch as every time a Rep crosses the aisle and votes with Dems, someone will insist that Steele and Obama are kindred spirits.

Washington Post ... "no achievement, no record, no evidence and certainly no command of the issues."

Ouch. Sound a bit like Palin.

Posted by: Danp on January 30, 2009 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

I keep thinking of the last time I saw Steele on Bill Maher's show (just in the last season). His arguments were so weak. Worse, he grew visibly pissy and dismissive of the other guests who challenged him...and the audience. Not impressive. Maybe it was just a bad day for him. Or something he ate.

Posted by: Victoria on January 30, 2009 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

How did the appointment of Colin Powell and Condi Rice affect the black vote? And putting Steele in that company is something he has not earned.

I think this will have all the impact of appointing Clarence Thomas, or the various candidacies of Alan Keyes.

That said, as a Democrat, I'm disappointed to see the GOP put even this small amount of distance between the leadership and its rank and file. It's been getting easier and easier to pin them as the regional/cultural fringe party they actually are, and this provides them a wee, tiny bit of cover that they don't at all deserve.

Posted by: Jon on January 30, 2009 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

That said, as a Democrat, I'm disappointed to see the GOP put even this small amount of distance between the leadership and its rank and file. It's been getting easier and easier to pin them as the regional/cultural fringe party they actually are, and this provides them a wee, tiny bit of cover that they don't at all deserve.

I wouldn't worry. Half the party will now start working overtime to reassure the racist base that they're "with them," wink wink, nod, nod. Shockingly for such a normally nuanced group, these efforts to show "where their loyalties lie" will be conducted in plain sight and lack all subtlety.

Posted by: shortstop on January 30, 2009 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

"...the editorial the Washington Post ran on his U.S. Senate candidacy in 2006, which described Steele as a man of "no achievement, no record, no evidence and certainly no command of the issues."

This makes him perfect to lead the Republican party for the next two years!

Posted by: Atlliberal on January 30, 2009 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

The election of Steele at this moment is hamhandedly obvious us-tooism coming right after Obama's election.

Especially since they spent said election running around going, "We have a chick just like Hillary on the ticket, so all you women have to vote for us!"

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 30, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Doctor Biobrain: "They've got nothing. They've got nobody. They're screwed."

On the contrary. They've got the handful of giant corporations that own and control virtually all of the mass media from which most Americans get most of their information.

That includes both the corporate-owned, so-called "mainstream" media, and the corporate-owned, openly partisan Republican right-wing extremist media. And these two wings of the corporate propaganda machine are already working in close coordination with the political arm of the corporate oligarchy, a.k.a. the Republican Party, to undermine the American people's confidence in and support for the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress.

That's why the cable "news" channels have been putting on twice as many Republican politicians as Democratic politicians in their "reporting" on the stimulus package, for example.

Near-totalitarian control of the media may not be as good as owning the president and the Congress, but it ain't "nothing".

And America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. will be making full use of that control to relentlessly hammer the American people with their agenda and to attack Democrats for the next four to eight years.

Meanwhile, clueless "sensible liberal" bloggers will be scratching their heads and whining about when "the media" is going to "get it right" and start practicing "journalism" -- as though "the media" was some kind of public interest nonprofit engaged in impartially educating and informing the public, out of the goodness of their hearts, rather than what it is, which is a for-profit, corporate propaganda machine.

You can count on it.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 30, 2009 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

"[Rove was] rumored to have questioned Steele's competence"

On the well-understood principle that black guys aren't smart enough to play quarterback, no doubt.

Posted by: David in NY on January 30, 2009 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

About time for a black DNC Chair too pretty soon, although running the Pres. is better.

Posted by: Neil B ☺ on January 30, 2009 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Steele is the only black Republican of any stature to have ever held elective office. And he's been out of office for, what, six years?

But he's got a certain key personality trait that makes him a Republican through and through. I've seen him on TV a number of times. He's always, always a huge dick.

Posted by: Rob Mac on January 30, 2009 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Michael Steele - Racial Stunt Man

Posted by: Michael Steele's Conscience on January 30, 2009 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

I think Steele was the best choice they had, but it was an incredibly sorry lot and that doesn't mean I think he will actually do a good job. He may not be as much of a disaster as Duncan was and the others would be though.

Posted by: Shalimar on January 30, 2009 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe the GOP thought it was voting for Remington Steele.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 30, 2009 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Especially since they spent said election running around going, "We have a chick just like Hillary on the ticket, so all you women have to vote for us!"

This is what a lot of conservatives I know don't seem to get (Limbaugh, especially, hammers this point over and over again) - they insist that it's the liberals who are the real racists and sexists, because we're the one's voting for Clinton because she's a woman, and Obama because he's black.

It never, ever occurs to them that we're just voting for them. They're the ones making the interpretation that it must for racist/sexist reasons, because they can't see any other reason for it.

In other words, they're the ones who see sexist and racist motives in everything. Gee, why is that?

Posted by: DH Walker on January 30, 2009 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

But he's got a certain key personality trait that makes him a Republican through and through. I've seen him on TV a number of times. He's always, always a huge dick.

Seconded. I'm from Maryland, which means I've seen more than my fair share of his arrogant douchebaggery. He reminds me of that Onion headline from a few years ago: "Jerry Fallwell: Is That Guy A Dick, Or What?"

Posted by: DH Walker on January 30, 2009 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter RNC message: "See? We TOLD you we weren't racists. Stupid n****rs & n****r-lovers got to be told EVERYTHING."

It'll be interesting to see if Steele keeps the gig after the '10 elections. I suspect his gig is window-dressing, with the GOP thinking it'll bring back or keep SOME minorities in the fold. Nothing is certain, but I doubt it'll work, and there's going to be hamhanded attemp to delicately remove Steele from the position if Republicans lose more seats in 2 years. THEN the Evangelicals can really claim they have a mandate - after all (they'll say) if the party hadn't lost its way trying to be more centrist, THEN they'd be doing better. Which will make about as much sense as New Line Cinema executives blaming the failure of "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" on Rosario Dawson.

Posted by: slappy magoo on January 30, 2009 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me that no matter what color face Republicans put up, the same old crappy ideas aren't going to sell any better to voters than the old crappy ideas. That's really their problem in a nutshell. They really do seem to think that putting lipstick on a pig is an improvement.

Posted by: sparrow on January 30, 2009 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

For republicans Michael Steel is to Blacks as Sarah Palin is to Women , We're just kidding , only a token , disclaimer: does not necessarily reflect the makeup of the party.

Posted by: John R on January 30, 2009 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Steele is the only black Republican of any stature to have ever held elective office..

Not really. Besides Reconstruction, Edward Brooke was a US Senator from Massachusetts. I mean, it's not a deep bench, but J.C. Watts and Brooke were more powerful than Steele ever was.

Posted by: Jay B. on January 30, 2009 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

FL GOP Chair Jim Greer: "There certainly is an advantage of a credible message of inclusion if you have a minority as chairman."

Really? How credible was the GOP's message when Condi Rice was President George W. Bush's NSC Director and then Secretary of State?

This was, of course, was the very same President Bush whose first cabinet appointment was Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose 1998 interview with Southern Partisan magazine praised that white supremacist publication for "defending Southern Patriots," and scoffed at the notion that such Confederates were "subscribing ... to some perverted agenda."

And this is also the same party that claims as a member Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who pledged to restore the Confederate battle emblem to his state's flag during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

The GOP's transparently token displays of racial diversity, obviously made without a sincere commitment to tolerance and equality, merely underscore the party's underlying hypocrisy, especially when we all watch this avowed "Party of Lincoln" troll for votes down South every two years by blatantly pandering to neo-Confederate ideology.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 30, 2009 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

"There certainly is an advantage of a credible message of inclusion if you have a minority as chairman."

I don't think the word "credible" means what he thinks it means.

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on January 30, 2009 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

The message of inclusion is to white moderates, not to minorities. Most moderates do not feel good about voting for a racist, etc., but Steele will provide the racist right with cover as they attack Obama and the democratic party. The attacks will be hypocritical, but if they are loud enough and amplified by the msm, it will help them get elected in spite of screwing up the country and world.

Of course, Steele did have one "good" idea, passing out fliers in Baltimore with Ehrlich and Steele as heading the Democratic party. Maybe they think this is the only way they can win in 2010.

Posted by: Ray on January 30, 2009 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

BWWAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA
BWWAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA

GOPers sure are funny animals.......and mimicky. "Let's pick a black male RNC chair (of no achievement) to show how inclusive we are". "Let's pick a woman VP candidate (of no achievement) to show how progressive we are".

BWWAHAHAHAHAAHHAA

Posted by: palinoscopy on January 30, 2009 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK
"There certainly is an advantage of a credible message of inclusion if you have a minority as chairman."

Only if we're as stupid as you think we are, arsehole.

Posted by: The Answer WAS Orange on January 30, 2009 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP is out of touch with the issues that impact most Americans' lives, and do a great job alienating minorities. The only thing Steele and I have in common is race, and I know a lot of African Americans who see him as someone who will lick any boots, kiss any @ss, and sell his soul to gain some semblance of prominence. An unremarkable term as attorney general and a failed run for governor doesn't say much. The GOP touts his idea to use technology to attract people to the party, but I know how to use technology to delete any email that comes from the GOP and/or Michael Steele.

Posted by: majii on January 30, 2009 at 11:37 PM | PERMALINK

well, congrats to Steele, I think. He gets to inherit the Party to Nowhere. There are 2 things this vote tells me.
1) Maybe the ballot said LEXINGTON STEELE and not MICHAEL STEELE.
2) What the hell happened to Duncan? 2 days ago he had 30 votes and Steele had just 17. I thought he was a lock.

Posted by: agentX on January 31, 2009 at 6:44 AM | PERMALINK

This seems like the same trick John McCain used. Pick a woman and you'll get the women vote. Pick a minority and you'll get the minority vote. The thougt process of the GOP amazes me.

Posted by: Stevan on February 1, 2009 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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