Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Michael Steel, Republican Lawn Jockey.

Despite his last name the chairman of the RNC has been anything other than a man of steel. While Superman flies with the greatest of ease Mr. Steel seems much more gravity bound.

It started off well enough for the former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland he became the first African American to be honored with the post of chairman. His only real competitor for that particular honor was the political outlier known as Allan Keys. As the Republican Party needed some kind of counter-point to Barack Obama Steel had a leg up on his more melanin deprived competition. Steel caught yet another break when his primary opponent was a lily white PR disaster that had just recently resigned from a whites-only golf club. So the choice for the Republican Party was to show a little love to the very few darker hued members of their party or elevate yet another pale, stale white guy from the South with a troublesome past.

Thus Michael Steel was elected to prove that the Republican Party was a big tent and could be every bit as forward thinking as the Democrats. There was a small fly in the ointment though. Their ebony hero was obviously a second tier, minor league player who was now playing in the bigs. Could Steel punch above his weight?

It soon became apparent that Steel was not in the same category as Barack Obama. Instead of the careful, well reasoned and smooth delivery of the man from Illinois what Steel brought to the table was a series of gaffs. His attempts to match Obama’s cool factor were at best awkward. Only his skin tone prevented him from being derided as a second rate minstrel performer. If a white man had performed the same way as Michael Steel did the whole of America would be screaming “racist.” The Michael Steel road show with its “urban-suburban” reach out was at best poorly thought out, and at worst was a pathetic display of how out of touch the Republican Party is with people of color.

Steel played to every clueless stereotype that uninformed whites have about blacks and black culture out there. Culturally Steel seems to be stuck in the Disco Era, with a tin ear to the Hip-Hop generation that now dominates our urban core. Except for the skin tone one can not get any more white bread and mayonnaise than Michael Steel.

Still it would have been OK for Mikey if he had some results to show for his Step-and-fetch-it routine. Steel did make a play for NY-20 and a victory there. He was all in on that special election. But as Nate Silver pointed out Steel’s efforts were unable to significantly change the electoral dynamics of the Obama election cycle. Obama has managed to torque the electorate so solidly to the Democratic Party that even “safe” Republican districts like NY-20 were toss ups. Thus when the smoke cleared NY-20 was decided narrowly and because it is still 2008 despite the calendar, Democrats are winning close elections. All hail Howard Dean and the 50 state strategy for making this possible.

So for all of Steel’s braggadocio, his strutting and fretting, his “strategic thinking” and chest beating the results have been rather disappointing. Even before NY-20 vote Steel was in deep kimchi with certain state Republican chairs. There was talk of Steel getting a pink slip. Only the arcane rules for disposing Steel and the great embarrassment to the party such a public rejection of their newly minted leader would incur saved Steel the humiliation of a quick exit.

Instead Steel is suffering the death of a thousand cuts. He had to surrender much of the real power of his office by agreeing to controls on his ability to spend the RNC’s money and just recently he was ignored in his wish to prevent the party on voting for an asinine proposal to label the opposition party the “Democrat-Socialist” Party. Steel’s objection to the idea was overridden by 16 RNC members from 16 states in arcane maneuver specifically done to humiliate the chairman. As politico pointed out some in the Party no longer care what the Chairman of the Republican Party thinks. (

There seems to be a consensus building amongst Republicans about Michael Steel. First it appears that the powers that be have concluded that making him chairman was a mistake. Thus only 100 days into his office Steel is already a dead man walking. Second is that Steel has suffered enough so he won’t actually be relieved of his position early, he won’t get fired. Third because he is an unguided missile of man and incompetent in job he will not be allowed to have any real power. Thus for the remaining two years of his term he will be allowed to merely be a pleasing dark face for the party to display to the wider world. Steel will be paraded about as an amulet to prevent the charge that the Elephant Party is a club of old, white, southern, males. Both Steel and the RNC will probably find a way for the Republicans to hobble through the first black Chairman of the party. All it will take is Steel to finally accept his place as a lawn ornament displayed in front of the plantation.

Special Milestone for the blog, Post 1,000. Break Out the Chamapaine.
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