I've mentioned Mr. Steele, the 40 year old former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, several times as an excellent Republican Party candidate for President. Which is one reason why I am somewhat surprised that he would chair the party, as opposed to make a run for the nation's highest office.
But this doesn't his rise to power in the GOP token or insignificant in anyway. National chairpersons of political parties make a tremendous difference. Howard Dean's 50 state strategy and his ability to shepherd his party through what could have been a disastrous political fight between the first serious African-American and woman contenders for the Democratic nomination for president was crucial. Ron Brown, chaired the Democratic Party as it recaptured the White House for the first time in 12 years, when Bill Clinton became the party's nominee.
But even more significant is the RNC chair's role in setting the tone in the selection and grooming of political candidates down ballot, as well as the development and communication of the vision and the message of the party. If Steele is as able a leader as he is a communicator, he can help lead the party to develop a message of inclusion and away from the managed obsolescence toward which it drifted, culminating in the lop-sided visual Republicans presented to the country during its convention.
Again, this is important - very important. Independent and Republican African-Americans, as well other Republican leaders have often expressed their frustration that black people tended to put all their eggs in one political basket. But the fact is that has had as much to do with the social policy of the Republican Party as it had to do with any romantic attraction to Democratic Party ideals. I know a number of black republicans for whom the 'pro-business', 'pull yourself up by your own bootstraps' message is attractive. But the appearance of the party as a wealth focused, mean-spirited political party with an entrenched commitment to 'trickle-down' economics is the turn off to many minorities. For many, it has been perceived as anti-poor, insensitive and non-inclusive. Ironically, President Barack Obama's call to greater personal responsibility as well as local civic engagement, may actually make such a message from Steele and the Republican Party more palatable. And the bi-partisan tone of the Obama administration, may actually produce contests which compete for voters' attention with different strategies to get to the same place versus two parties appearing to want to lead America to two different destinies.
The appeal to African-Americans that the Republican Party is 'the party of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator', has not held water with blacks. The Republican Party hasn't been the party of Lincoln for a long time. The fact is, that the exodus from the Republican party by black Americans began in the 40's during FDR's administration and the New Deal (and probably owing equally as much to Eleanor Roosevelt), That out-migration may have surged after the '48 Democratic National Convention walk out by Strom Thurmond and his fellow Dixiecrats. It was solidified during the mid-sixties, with the RNC's selection of Goldwater, as its standard bearer and continued with the campaign of George Wallace in '68. The candidacy of Richard Nixon intentionally divided the country along racial lines with his 'law and order candidacy' (aided in no small part by the chaos of the '68 Chicago Democratic Convention). Throw in Reagan's campaign portrayal of the stereotypical 'welfare queen', the disastrous impact of trickle down economics on low income communities, George Bush 41's and Lee Atwater's shameful pandering to racial fears use of the infamous use of the Willie Horton ad and George Bush 43's perceived indifference in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and you have the equivalent of a political toxic soup, when it comes to association with Republican Party.
Heretofore, outreach of the Republican Party has amounted to: 'these are the things we believe in, here are the leaders we have; these are the stars of our party and - if you want to - we'd love to have your vote.' If Michael Steele is able to help the RNC communicate to a broad constituency that Republicans have core beliefs and values, that are important to them, but are open to ideas and points of view that will both enhance and enlarge our platform and the politics of our party, then 2010 will be interesting and 2012 can produce a presidential contest worthy of our country's heritage.
It can mean all Americans can have candidates with whom they can identify and we'll all have real choices.
If not: same ol', same ol'...