Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Steele the Moment

By John S. Wilson

*Previously appeared on New Majority.com*

The GOP is doubting a lot right now: Will poll numbers for the House GOP members increase? Will Obama's numbers come down? And last but not least, should we get rid of Michael Steele? The GOP doesn't know the answer to the first two and neither do I. Fact of the matter is the answer really isn't up to them, it's up to a fickle public that is shell shocked by ever-increasing economic instability. Expecting rational judgment out of an irrational public doesn't sound too, well, rational.

If Michael Steele stays his entire 2 year term it will show that he at least had the opportunity to institute changes whether he was successful or not. And that's important. Not only because Steele is the first African American chairman but also because he is dedicated to making inroads in minority communities and is a socially moderate republican (unlike his African American competitor for the chairmanship, Ken Blackwell). I recently watched Steele during his appearance (an RNC chairman's first) at Tavis Smiley's "State of the Black Union" summit. Seated amongst liberal luminaries such as Cornel West, Al Sharpton and Lani Guinier, Steele engaged in a healthy and down-to-earth dialogue about the barriers to entry that minorities still face, disparities in education and health care, and gun violence in urban communities. Could the last RNC chairman Ken Melhman have done that? Doubtful - he probably would've looked as comfortable as Karl Rove being served with a congressional subpoena. Steele talked about successes too, but the problems are where the GOP can gain insight and advantage.

To be sure, co-opting democratic issues such as education and fighting inner city crime isn't a new idea. Bush did it successfully in 2000 with his compassionate conservatism campaign, netting himself a higher than normal Hispanic and black
vote share for a republican candidate. In 2004 he did even better raising the black vote share in Florida from 7% to 13%; and Hispanic share from 49% to 56%. So what can Steele do that a a different chairman can not? Add credibility to GOP problem solving by bringing much-needed perspective and laying a foundation that is receptive to minority issues in the future. Steele gives minorities a seat at the GOP table. He is also probably more respected in the black community than any other republican aside from Colin Powell. On many issues - gun rights, education, crime prevention - the GOP isn't necessarily on the wrong side; they are just on the other side and must appear to be open to negotiation. For example, gun rights sounds great when you're a sport shooter or hunter and live in a nice comfortable area. It doesn't sound so great when you live in Richmond, Orlando, or another mid-major city that is plagued with gun violence. It's not a secret that certain regulations like the Lautenberg Amendment, which bars gun possession by abusers convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, gives law enforcement a leg up. But the gun lobby - NRA, et al - recently supported an argument that would've gutted it. The argument was proffered by a convicted domestic abuser, based on a significantly narrow interpretation, and ruled against by the Supreme Court.

In minority communities, especially black ones, it seems as though law enforcement's hands are too frequently tied when it comes to protecting black victims yet all too free when it comes to imprisoning black suspects (blacks are 6 times more likely to be
imprisoned ). This distrust naturally fosters even more problems. Steele can certainly help to cut through this distrust by supporting policies that empower urban communities, continuing to support affirmative action, and ending the condescension emanating from the likes of Rush Limbaugh (who he should not have recently apologized to). So it's Steele's moment. The GOP should fall back and let the man work.

John attends Virginia Commonwealth University with a triple major in economics, sociology, and women's studies. He blogs at Policy Diary, Hip-Hop Republican, and serves as a regular contributor to PolicyNet, where he writes about domestic and foreign affairs. He recently served as a legislative fellow in the office of the Honorable David Englin (D) of the Virginia House of Delegates.


Anonymous said...

Overall, this was a well-written article! Steele shouldn't go, he's only been on for two months. But he shouldn't have apologized to the windbag known as Rush (that's all he is). The GOP needs to change, Steele has ideas that can refresh the GOP.

The author does make some really good points.

Anonymous said...

Steele's idea of making inroads to minority groups is talking slang and offering Bobby Jindal some "slum love". This guy is an embarrasment and it is an absolute shame that the black community is being so poorly misrepresented by him. He is single-handedly confirming every negative stereotype that have kept the GOP from welcoming black people in the first place.

His appointment was another cynical GOP ploy that has blown up in their face like Sarah Palin. It's being reported that there may be a no confidence vote against him at the end of this month. If he gets booted I guarantee the GOP will never try this experiment again and black people will be even less welcomed in this party. I hate to sound so negative but this is a harsh reality. As a black man I will never associate with this party and can never understand how some could. This Michael "yeah baby" Steele character has done us no justice.

Anonymous said...

Michael Steele is a disgrace. He is and will never be as smart, graceful, and respected as Colin Powell or C. Rice. He is a token tool of the republican party and I can't see Black people (especially Black men) following his lead.

Anonymous said...

The two above comments were either written in ignorance or by trolls. Michael Steele is the future of this party and I, as a Black man, am proud to have him as the leader of my party. If you don't like it, go somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Not ignorance, just a difference of opinion. If you're proud to have him as your leader then you are as sad and pitiful as Steele is.

John S. Wilson said...

Folks thanks for reading and commenting. Fact is Steele is far from perfect and, yes, has made very silly comments. But let's not get it twisted - his demeanor and language are part of a shift to a younger, more inclusive GOP. They weren't meant to demonize anyone. How am I so sure? Because I've listened to the man and see where he's coming from. Imagine the landscape he sees when he looks at the GOP audience: Too few minorities and young people. It's a hip hop generation, and he's going to relate to it as much as he can. That's what this site is all about. If it sounds disingenuous then he's either trying too hard or people are listening too hard. And honestly I think it's a bit of both.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment John, and for not accusing people of being ignorant because of our differences.

I just can't move past the fact that Steele didn't correct Bachmann's "you be da man" comment. As a Black woman, I just don't think that's funny and was insulted when he laughed it off. I'm afraid (to those outside of the GOP) Steele is looking more like a caricature because of all the yeah baby's and the rest of the slang he uses. Someone sent me a youtube video entitled Republicans Go Urban that summarized the joke he's become.

Both major parties have seious problems. That's the reason I've decided to stay independent. I also don't think hip hop should be used as a tool to sell politics to young Blacks.

That said, Blacks should definantly be at both tables making the major decisions that will impact our community.