Let me immediately stop any rumors that new RNC chair Michael Steele is any relation to my wife Koni Steele.
I know the GOP was in search of a new direction with their new chair, but what are they thinking, going with the bass player from the `80s all-gal band the Bangles?
Former lieutenant governor of Maryland?
So one of the two black guys beat the all-white country club guy and the Barack the Magic Negro guy. So give them credit; the GOP, or at least a plurality of the national committee, has realized that the appearance of a lily white party is a problem. And if they were going that route, better Steele than Ken "Vote Suppression" Blackwell.
Chris Matthews didn't win any friends among the viewers of the official Democrat channel, MSNBC, by noting not once but TWICE that he voted for Steele in the 2006 Maryland Senate race (That sound you heard was Mathews' old boss Tip O'Neill stirring in his oversized grave). Steele made that race much closer than he should have, and almost pulled it off in a very blue state in a horrible GOP year. (Some of that was residual racial politics; Democrat Ben Cardin narrowly beat former congressman and NAACP chair Kwesi Mfume in the Democratic primary.)
I'm old enough to remember Jack Kemp, in the "enterprise zone" days, saying he wouldn't rest until the District of Columbia voted Republican. But that vision died with the Reagan Welfare Queen speech and Willie Horton and the Jesse Helms white hands ad. But this isn't about actually winning black votes. That dream is way on a back burner, with the pilot light out, through the Obama era. It's about addressing the Nixon-Wallace-Reagan alignment era perception that the Republicans are the White Backlash Party. It worked for the GOP from 1968 to 2004, but it works against them now. Moderate whites are uncomfortable in a Trent Lott party, and Steele makes it looks like they're trying. And if that kind of mindset is banished beyond the pale of American politics, it's good for all of us. (The next, and harder, trick for the GOP: balancing a growing Hispanic voting demographic with the nativist, don't make me push 1 for English mood of the GOP grassroots).
Of course this isn't just, or even mostly race, politics, and it's certainly not tokenism. Steele seems to have been the best of the bunch (but that's not really saying much). Chair matters more in the out party than in the in party. Steele should be a good talking head on the Sunday shows, more appealing than, say, Mitch McConnell or John Boehner.
A Talking Head.
That's only part of the job; running the party is the other part. Krusty has some insightful comments on what this means for Iowa:
Some are quick to think that the election of Steele means the end of the Iowa Caucuses. I don’t necessarily agree with that sentiment even though I’m worried. If Steele is a chairman who enforces the rules and doesn’t allow any shenanigans from a few larger states wishing to crash our party we will be fine... To be really honest with you, if (Michigan candidate) Anuzis would have been the one that put Steele over the top I’d be more worried than I currently am.
But the real question is, can he walk like an Egyptian?