Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Posted by John S. Wilson at 2:36 PM
By John S. Wilson
Steele the Moment -
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 TavisSmiley'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, etal - 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.