Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Compare and Contrast

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

There is a pretty famous quote that lives on in America's lexicon. It goes something like this:

"...The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated..."

About 100 years or so ago, this quote was attributed to Mark Twain. Today, it should be attributed to RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

See, it's amazing how things work in politics, based on one's perception. For all of the chatter about how and why President Obama should be given more time to allow his policies to take root and work, there is a greater amount of rhetoric that keeps feeding into the notion that the Republican Party is ripping apart at the seams, taking everyone from Steele and others down for the count with it. With this being the first time in American political history where the proverbial (i.e., the White House) and literal (i.e., the Republican National Committee) heads of the 2 major parties in the nation are headed by African-Americans, it is no wonder that many national pundits and media outlets continue to tie the two gentlemen together, yet often rooting for their successes inversely. Just as each step within the Obama White House is noted for its historical nature with a fawning over that can be downright embarrassing at times, every single "indicator" that Steele is failing as the national leader of the GOP is analyzed, criticized, and theorized, each considered another step into the implosion that many are certain will occur within the party soon enough. Early occurrences in the Steele Era at the RNC of this included the Steele-Limbaugh controversy (and questioning of "who was the actual head of the RNC"); more recent incidents center on the Sarah Palin book and the resignation of the RNC's communications director just this week. Each day has its media reports that foretell of a turnaround for the Obama White House, just as there is a series of rumors and innuendos that supposedly indicate the end of the Republican Party as we know it and a journey towards a new third-party full of GOP rejects that are frustrated with the traditional conservative party.

Just as the optimism for post-partisanship on Capitol Hill, cooperation in Washington, job creation by the president's stimulus package throughout the nation, and confidence in bringing societal and community tensions to a halt under Obama's leadership have been greatly embellished (symbolized by the Nobel Prize earned in just 30 days of in-office work as the President), the tumbling downfall of Michael Steele as the RNC Chair - along with the effectiveness and cohesion of the Republican Party as a national force - have been inflated at best.

Further still, if you compare the effectiveness of each man 10 months or so into their tenures, you might be surprised in what you see, for the rumors of the RNC's demise - and Steele's with it - have been greatly exaggerated.

In stark contrast to the legislative and national failures that President Obama and the Democrats have experienced throughout 2009, the RNC has been a leader in the country as the wave of electoral momentum has swung back to the GOP. Decisive blows in Virginia and New Jersey - both areas where President Obama and the Democrats campaigned hard, extended resources, and spent money in order to win the gubernatorial seats in play earlier this month - only seem to serve as an indicator to the level of comeback that the Republicans will infuse into the 2010 midterm elections. Under Steele's leadership, the Republicans have been able to consistently out-raise the Democrats in terms of fundraising and outmaneuver the Democrats in terms of shaping the financial landscape of the future coming as a result of the directives being passed by this presidential administration and its allies on Capitol Hill. As well, under Steele's leadership, the RNC has expended resources and funding strategically to change the political tide - a move that, evidenced by the victories in Virginia and New Jersey, the national responses to health care proposals over the summer, and the change in branding for the Republican Party as the "Party of No" earlier in 2009 to a party with hope for 2010.

Where Obama has taken on a difficult task as president to shift the fortunes of America - meeting this challenge with very mixed results, Steele has taken on a more difficult task (from a political standpoint, that is) as RNC Chair to rebrand the GOP away from the image of an out-of-touch, isolated, fringe party incapable of being a viable option in urban states and with growing new voting blocs in the country - meeting his challenge with resiliency that has yielded major victories under his leadership this month as the 2010 elections come on the horizon.

Even opportunities to bury Steele and the Republicans politically have not been capitalized. In lieu of taking advantage of perceived Steele missteps in public forums (such as the Feb 28 incident surrounding Limbaugh on the now-cancelled "DL Hughley Breaks the News"), President Obama continued to up the ante, becoming personally involved in embarrassing issues such as "Beer Summit" while being painfully behind the curve on relevant matters such as the DC Voucher program debate (where he initially moved to cut off funding to poor Black children only weeks after proclaiming his devotion to the educational pursuits of at-risk kids) and the Derrion Albert tragedy (an incident occurring right in his beloved South Side of Chicago, one that was ignored by several days by his press staff while he made a rush trip overseas in an attempt to secure the Summer Olympics as a called-in favorite for fellow Chicagoans.)

Whereas the blitz of Obama in the media has caused a dulling effect on the nation as his "cult of personality" continues to dwindle, the effectiveness of Steele's nation-wide tour is only beginning to yield fruit. Early appearances at events such as the State of the Black Union (in Los Angeles), multiple coffee house talks with constituents across the country, college forums in various locations, and regular media appearances on Sunday political shows and weekday morning shows have resulted in a consistent and measurable move of independents, young voters, and other voting blocs away from the allegiance that they gave Obama and the Democrats since 2008. This shift in voter persuasion also comes as the president and Democrats have failed to articulate their plans for fixing the economy, capping unemployment at single-digit rates, and improving the lives of everyday Americans. Not only has the White House and Congressional Leader failed at using their supermajority in Washington to convince America that their directives are sound and just, but they have also failed to convince moderate Democrats of the same, especially after the rounds of economic failure coming earlier with the stimulus package, the lack of job creation and credit availability, and the increase in unemployment to depression-like levels in many American communities. All this has been occurring while the Republicans have lined up in unison to oppose the historic deficit spending and other directives that have hampered the American comeback.

Just in time for the Republican comeback.

Coupling this with the frustration of young voters with the White House snub they have received to date and the call to task of the Obama Administration by the NAACP, AFL-CIO, and La Raza is the RNC's continued movement to infuse a more visible sense of diversity and inclusion - in essence putting Steele's money where his mouth in a fashion that the Obama Administration never really has with the very people that elected the first Black president. In sharp contrast to the White House's tendency to ostracize critics (i.e., Fox News) in a clear indication that the jabs were getting underneath the administration's skin, Steele and his team at the RNC have displayed a focus that looks past intended death knolls both within aspects of the party structure and the national media and rumor mills, thus enabling a continued march towards reversing the supermajority in Washington electorally and the tide of unemployment and disillusion socially as next November nears.

Steele has not won a Peace Prize as Obama has, but at this rate, the bigger historical prize coming in 2010 seems to be his.

In an era where President Obama's promise of post-partisanship, bilateral support domestically and a return to American prestige internationally has fizzled into the malaise of status quo in Washington - the exact opposite of what Obama campaigned on as a candidate last fall - Steele's leadership at the RNC has been the example of being a trendsetter, one where conservative values and principles have garnered a positive response from a growing section of Americans while independents and moderates continue to support Republican leadership against the massive spending coming from Washington. For every one Obama move behind closed doors that contravenes the will of the American people (e.g., the after hours deal between the White House and AIG executives to pay out millions in bonuses with bailout funding), Steele has similar back-room moves that build a stronger, better, and more diverse Republican Party despite the media back-biting and de facto calls of failure. Despite the Democrats' strong-arming to create unity at a time when confidence in their direction continues to wane, the Republican brand continues to strengthen as a viable option for more Americans nationally coming into 2010 under Steele's watch regardless of perceived rifts. Between the Tea Party Movement, the surge in conservative conservation in the media, and the shift of independents and others away from the Obama Administration, there is evidence that the Republican brand is strengthening despite the lack of credit being given to a man perceived as nothing more than a token in response to Obama's presence in the White House.

Tokens campaign well but never live up to campaign promises. Results yielding from Steele's RNC throughout 2009 serve notice that Michael Steele is no token - and that the results in Virginia and New Jersey may only be the beginning for a party that is on the cusp of reclaiming America in a way it never has before after a historical election of its own.

With all of these examples in tow, a summary look at the The One's sliding approval ratings, two major victories in gubernatorial races in November, and three rounds of proposed unpopular spending from the supermajority (i.e., the stimulus package, the bank bailouts, and the health care bills), it's becoming clear that the superlatives of Obama's excellence in the White House (i.e., the Nobel Peace Prize) contrast with the exaggerations of Steele's demise as well as that of the RNC. And where Obama's mantra increasingly seems beholden to one Mark Twain quote ("...better a broken promise than none at all..."), Steele's legacy is being forged slowly but surely with another (" the right will gratify some people and astonish the rest...")

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