The GOP's Man of SteeleMost of us who follow such happenings now know that former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele has been elected the next Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC). Everybody from the Hip Hop Republicans to The Caucus is weighing in with their thoughts on his selection, so I’m adding my two cents, too.

First, I have to say how surprised I am to read and see the level of hostility coming from other African Americans toward Chairman Steele. I would have thought we could all be happy for the man. After all, he’s certainly paid his political dues both in terms of sheer years of experience, and actual achievement once in office. So no one can legitimately say he’s not qualified. He participates in Black-run public forums (e.g., State of the Black Union) and actively engages with Afro-centric organizations like the NAACP. So it would seem he could pass the unspoken “is he really one of us?” litmus test. Nonetheless, he’s still subject to stinging name-calling, like “Uncle Tom,” and to humiliation like having Oreo cookies rolled in his path after a gubernatorial debate in 2002.

I thought the point was for African Americans of all political, religious, occupational, and economic backgrounds to rise and represent. But it appears that, as a people, we’re only happy if the man or woman we see eye to eye with on everything makes it. I say shame on us.

Mr. Steele himself has wondered about this kind of intracultural double standard as recently as February 2008 during his participation on the panel for State of the Black Union (which, incidentally, Barack Obama declined to attend). In response to host Tavis Smiley’s question intimating that maybe the Republican Party lags behind Democrats in terms of African-American leadership, Steele expressed his wish that more Blacks would support and show pride in African-American leaders of all stripes-himself included. It’s safe to say he couldn’t have known at the time how prophetic his words would be.

The question remains, was his selection a good one? Is he the man for the job? If the GOP is looking for someone to lift it from its organizational quagmire and breathe some life into its wheezing operational apparatus, then he’s a good choice. In Chapter 1 of his very Obama-esque “Blueprint for Tomorrow” he admits: the Republican brand is tarnished; their strategy has not worked; and their technology is outdated. In addition, he has already identified for his transition team, as priority one, a review of all party operations. A good start.

It will be interesting to see how Steele’s fellow party members respond to his admissions and plans. Hopefully they won’t suffer from the “Cosby syndrome”– the “don’t air our dirty laundry” response Bill Cosby received from many Blacks when he took us to task for failing in many of our family and social responsibilities.

It also bodes well for the RNC that they chose a moderate like Steele, rather than a more potentially polarizing figure like Ken Blackwell. While Mr. Steele is a moderate conservative, a true conservative he is nonetheless. And I, for one, appreciate his conviction and commitment to uphold the conservative values the party still stands for, even if it has faltered in executing those values.

In a speech at the 2007 John William Pope Civitas Institute Conservative Leadership Conference, Steele simply and persuasively outlined how he sees the tenets of conservatism: belief in the power and ingenuity of the individual; limited government that does not infringe on the rights of the individual; low taxes; encouragement of entrepreneurship and small business; and a colorblind society.

Republican and colorblind may seem oxymoronic, but just think Lincoln-Emancipation Proclamation. Okay, maybe the colorblind thing is a stretch. But in a way, it’s really no different than the founding fathers declaring that all men are created equal, in some cases while owning slaves themselves. Some would see that as proof positive that the Republicans haven’t changed a bit and are as hypocritical as ever. But that’s missing the point.

We need high ideals to reach for in order to keep the standard before us. Besides, an argument could be made that this particular tenet of Steele’s brand of conservatism is in lock-step with the results of our recent presidential election.

At any rate, Steele certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt. He has come out on top and made history of his own as the first Black Chairman of the RNC; he has a well-thought-out plan; he’s energetic and experienced; and contrary to some opinions, he’s nobody’s lackey. To the Republican National Committee, I’d say: be careful what you wish for, because in Mr. Steele you just might get it.

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