From Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:
In some ways, the race for RNC chair was terribly predictable. [...] I predicted that if Obama won, the monochromatic GOP would be desperate to field an RNC chair with a black face, and so they would pick Michael Steele. While Ken Blackwell struck all the right positions, the party had already been burned by a doctrinaire conservative who wasn’t very smart.
Steele is smart. From the beginning of the race, he plucked exactly the right strings. In an interview with the Washington Times, he decried “country Club conservatives,” a move made more meaningful by [Katon] Dawson’s entrance into the race. [Dawson had to quit his membership in an all-white country club.] From Sarah Palin, such complaints rang false; despite her populist tone Palin wanted to be a part of the country club set as much as anyone. But from Steele, it sounded genuine.
But Steele, like Blackwell, struck his own Faustian bargain with the racist impulses of the GOP.
He alleged that Barack Obama “played the race card beautifully” during the election, adding that the GOP shouldn’t go easy on Obama “just because the President of the United States happens to be a black man.” Both of these views put him at odds with the majority of black folks in the country, who are solidly behind the president and who won’t countenance outreach based on the idea that Obama had it easier because he’s black. The subtle implication was that the party could change its face, even if it didn’t change its tone.
When former RNC candidate Chip Saltsman sent around a CD to RNC donors containing Paul Shanklin’s song “Barack, the Magic Negro,” Blackwell took that Faustian bargain to the bank, alleging that everyone was being too sensitive. Steele fumed in silence, expressing his frustration only to bloggers from the Center for American Progress.
But Steele, loyally obeying the 11th Commandment, (“Thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican”), didn’t step into the breach, he stayed silent. In doing so he showed an unwillingness to curb the GOP’s most harmful impulses, even when he knows they’re hurting the party. As RNC chair, he’ll have to find someway to rescind the implicit agreement he made at the beginning of the race to be the mouthpiece for traditional Republican views on race.
Reaching out to minorities from the party of Rush Limbaugh won’t be easy, even if the GOP weren’t in the midst of an identity crisis. And Steele will have to contend with the fact that man he has to spend the next four years tearing down is the same one he owes his new job to.