Saturday, January 31, 2009

The GOP's Man of Steele

Faster that a 30 second sound bite.
More powerful than a high-paid lobbyist.
Able to spin hard questions in a single press conference.

Look! On C-SPAN! It's a bird! Its a plane! No, it is Michael Steele!

Formerly the Lt. Governor of Maryland, Steele comes to the GOP to fight a never ending battle for truth, justice and the conservative American way!

All kidding aside, Michael Steele, after a long, all-day battle at the RNC meeting yesterday, emerged as the new national leader of the Republicans. He will be the face of the GOP for the next four years to counter what the Democrats, led by President Obama and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, will do.

Steele has an awesome task ahead of him. He has to revitalize a divided party that has taken a beating politically since 2006, in which time they have lost 13 U.S. Senate seats and 56 U.S. House seats, not to mention the White House. It will be his job to mend the rift between the conservatives, of which he is one, and the moderates, who put him in the chairmanship.

Steele has to continue to build upon the outreach effort that is targeting African-American, Asian and Latino voters while dealing with the rhetoric from the extremists in his party that alienates those groups. He has to develop strategies to compete in blue states, just like former DNC Chair Howard Dean and President Obama had strategies to compete in red states. He also has to define the GOP as a national party again, not a regional (can we say Southern Dixiecrat) party.

As an African-American, I am proud of Steele as I am President Obama. Not only has he broken a glass ceiling of his own, but he has solidified the argument I have made for some time that the Black Political Diaspora is not monolithic. Blacks, that could vote, were Republican for a long time before the Depression and the Civil Rights Era. Oscar De Priest, the first African-American Congressman from Chicago's 1st District was a Republican. It wasn't until William Dawson became the Congressman that the 1st District turned into a strong Democratic seat, especially in my lifetime.

My great aunt, Alton Hester of Indianapolis, was a Republican until the day she died. So strong was her convictions that when she approached her political nephew on one particular visit, she asked a couple of questions:

"Duckman, (she used to call me 'Duckman') are you still a Democrat?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Well, let me ask you this Duckman, are you a patriot?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Are you a Christian?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Then why are you a Democrat?"

That then gave me the opportunity to say that many of us in the Democratic Party are patriotic and faithful, that we share the same vision of an America where opportunities abound, the economy is strong and our communities are safe. I also reminded her that there was an old saying that all roads led to Rome, we have just chosen different roads to get there.

That, in a nutshell, is the picture of Black Political America. We are faithful, patriotic citizens of this country. Many families are more like the Huxtables and the Evans than Boys in Da' Hood and The Corner, although both are prevalent. We have helped build the economic juggernaut America once was and have defined the culture we live in now. And we have done this both as Democrats and Republicans.

From Hiram Revels to Roland Burris, we have covered the political spectrum. Many of my good friends and college classmates are active in both parties and that is good for African-Americans. Will Steele's term as chair bring more African-Americans to the GOP? That is what the Republicans are banking on, but it is nothing for anyone to be afraid of.

It just strengthens the point that the Black Vote in America should never be taken for granted. Gone are the days where an African-American can get elected just because he/she is African-American. Gone are the days when a white Democrat can assume he/she is getting the Black Vote unilaterally. As a point of fact, 9 percent of Black Vote in Mississippi voted for my Republican opponents in both the 2006 and 2008 U.S. Senate campaigns. A candidate running for political office in the 21st Century, regardless of political affiliation, has to ask for every vote, in every community to win.

If Chairman Steele and President Obama are both successful in their objectives, then it truly will be a new day in America. The content of a candidate's political character and the substance of the candidate's platform will be the deciding factors in an election, not what the candidate looks like or prejudicial stereotypes.

Those of us who are Democrats should not look at Steele's election as window dressing. Steele beat a Kennedy in a blue state to become Maryland's Lt. Governor. I have met him and have talked with him about issues, and he is more than just an "Oreo cookie" or the dreaded "Uncle Tom". He is a man of substance, who is sincere and passionate about his beliefs.

I look forward to the challenge he presents and the promise that he and the President represent.