The Republican Party is in the midst of a culture war as it fights to become relevant with everyday Americans – and bolster its image (and presence) as a national electoral force in a nation of ever-shifting demographics.
In that war, there will be casualties, including ones that may cost the Republicans a lot more than they are willing to spend in 2010.
One proposed name at the top of the casualty list: Chairman Michael Steele - its leader, first Black chairman of the RNC, and one of the best opportunities to diversify a party that is seen as being too old, too detached, and too exclusive for today's America.
For all of the admitted verbal gaffes (including the chairman's misstep last week as quoted above) and slow starts during the first 12 months of his term as chairman, one thing cannot be said about the former candidate for the United States Senate: he is not going to be accused of sitting around, not working to affect change for the GOP.
And - regardless of whether anyone wants to say it or not – that matters.
Ironically, the same passes that President Obama has gotten from his gaffes in the White House – from his team promoting him for a Nobel Peace Prize mere weeks into his presidency (and winning the prize despite a dearth of international accomplishments aside from a speech in Berlin) to the “Beer Summit Blunder” and now the “no Negro dialect” oversight – are not afforded to the chairman of the RNC despite many of the same dynamics coming into play.
There are reasons to disagree with the methods and directives of every leader, from Washington to Lincoln and from the Roosevelts to Reagan. However, when personal attacks come in the line of fire as America looks to pivot in accordance to the changing dynamics of the nation, it becomes more than about politics.
As is accurately true about some of the criticisms directed at President Obama, the same applies to Michael Steele.
Some folks just don’t want to see some types of change and will not stop until things…well…stop changing.
After winning the election after 6 rounds of voting, Michael Steele went to work as the new chairman of the RNC by looking to cut the legacy binds within the party, removing many people from the organization in an attempt to rebuild the party’s image into one that reflected more of how America looks in the 21st century.
Do you think that move made a lot of friends, regardless of how much people were saying on both sides of the aisle that the Republican Party looked too much like the “party of old, White men” and needed to change?
The culture war within the Republican Party – one that looks to morph its image and tolerance of other backgrounds while keeping its core principles intact (even in the aftermath of losing those principles over the past decade) – began in earnest 12 months ago once Steele’s victory made it clear that these changes would be coming, starting with the changes within the building. Even with all of the missteps, the tone within the RNC and the branding of conservatism changed in 2009 under Steele’s watch, a fact that very few want to attribute to him. Last year, the Party of Lincoln could speak with a chairman that attended the State of the Black Union and the NAACP Convention while speaking to the DC school voucher issue from a first-hand experience, not a one-off perspective that sounded conciliatory and foreign at best despite some of those that had the best of intentions.
The Republican Party’s history of Southern Strategy could not be argued against a man that stood in clear defiance of that legacy without saying a word.
Then again, things like Southern Strategy, the Jeremiah Wright ad, the Jesse Helms “quotas” ad, and the Willie Horton ad didn’t get out there on their own.
So, yes, there are forces that don’t quite want to see certain types of “change.”
Between the first Steele actions in office to his public missteps and statements, the move was on to make sure that those fighting change could control any further “change.”
The moves to limit the chairman’s ability to spend – a move not seen within RNC circles in some time, if ever.
The rhetoric about “overexposure” of the chairman on television – a call that seemingly ignored the impact that Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and others had on keeping minorities and others away from approaching the party with some of their own unique rhetoric.
The slight within Republican circles after the victories in New Jersey and Virginia – a snub that comes across more as an unwillingness to share the wealth of victory than it does a “truth-bearing initiative” on what happened last fall.
Now, the motion to donate all proceeds of Steele’s book to the RNC and its candidates – a move that screams “share the wealth” from a group of die-hard free market capitalists that reeks of the hypocrisy that hindered the GOP through the last decade and has made the brand an afterthought in 2006 and 2008.
Why am I saying this?
Because the question that everyone is thinking but many are afraid to ask still looms.
How much of these attacks on Steele are really about “poor” or “questionable” leadership?
How many others that could be in the chairman’s shoes would turn down book money at this point of time, particularly as precedent has been set for former chairmen to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside interests? Think that should interests didn’t raise the risk as potential “distractions”?
How many chairmen would sit still and watch their spending power be attacked or limited?
How many other chairmen would be told – silently or otherwise – that his role was little to none in the surprise victories in Virginia and New Jersey without a rebuttal?
Change often does not come without struggle. Inclusion often is not the friend of legacy.
The RNC is in need of both change and inclusion in order to compete successfully in a 21st century America that has shifted its views on gender, race, power, wealth, and success. Without a successful push for inclusion, the conservative principles that the GOP espouses will be lost to a wave of left-leaning followers of the only major party that reflects their demographics, life experiences, and circle of influences.
Because the RNC needs change and inclusion, it will continue to incur bouts of struggle from certain pockets of legacy until the culture war is won. That battleground has its beachhead at the desk of Michael Steele, Esq.
Mind you – not every move that Michael Steele has made has been successful or appropriate. And for those “taking score”, not every Black Republican has been on the same exact page with Steele on every issue; (one example would reflect back to when the chairman publicly asked on CNN that some within the party should “…stop talking so much…” about the Audra Shay controversy with the YRNF – right as I continued to speak publicly about the damage that I felt such a candidate would do to the efforts and image of the Young Republicans.) Some battles will always be fought within large organizations full of diverse leaders. That should not change – in the RNC, the GOP, or elsewhere.
However, it’s not supposed to be about a top-down, legacy-driven mindset that will turn around the Republican Party. Conservatism and free-market principles dictate the best rising to the top. It supports healthy competition that will further the overall effort.
It does not destroy itself from within via greed, jealousy, and worse – unless if we’re applying free market principles to Wall Street.
Or maybe politics.
Whether intended or otherwise, the constant call for Steele’s head on a platter by some (yet not all) factions within the RNC does a lot less to rally the grassroots towards a stronger, more viable Republican Party for America. Instead, it harkens America’s imagination back to the glory days of the party from the past several decades, including many of its inglorious moments – intended or otherwise.