Michael Steele: The Faltering Leader of a Struggling Party

Weakness comes in various shapes and forms. Sometimes it appears as an attempt to be above the fray by avoiding people in your own political party who have been ostracized for doing the right thing (as when President George W. Bush suffered a backlash for invading Iraq to overthrow the late Saddam Hussein). At other times it's evident in the habit of being so unsure of your leadership skills that you lash out at anyone who steals a bit of your spotlight via a principled stand (as when Rush Limbaugh was denounced for hoping President Obama's socialist-agenda fails).

At other times it appears as the raw inability to stand by anything you've said without vacillating (as when a party leader says one thing, only to take it back days later because of public outcry). Then there are those rare moments when weakness looks like all these things rolled into one, in which case we are probably talking about Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Michael Steele: the faltering leader of a struggling party.

When CNN announced Steele's ascension to the chairmanship of the RNC by pointing out Republicans had "elected their first African American party chief" I didn't give much thought to it. After all, who would expect CNN to do any less than focus on race? But the fact the Steele has a habit of focusing too much on race himself is an entirely different matter.

While running for a U.S. Senate seat in Maryland in 2006, Steele was clear about his support for affirmative action in responses he gave to a Baltimore Sun candidate questionnaire. To the question, "Are federal affirmative action programs necessary and effective?" Steele said: "Studies show enormous disparities still exist in education, healthcare, employment and economic opportunities along racial lines in the United States. I believe programs are still necessary to help close these divides." 

Were this an isolated example of Steele focusing on race, perhaps it wouldn't be worth worrying about, but it's not isolated at all. And it, coupled with his naïve attempts to broaden the Republican Party's appeal to the "hip hop" culture, has shown that Steele is hamstrung as a leader. He is frozen in place for fear of giving offense to this race or that one. Proof of this is seen in his hesitance to criticize Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, out of fear of losing Latino votes.

If Republicans in the Senate are foolish enough to view life through Steele's racially tinted lenses, they'll soon discover that a kid-glove approach to Sotomayor is but the tip of the iceberg: for Obama will always be smart enough to nominate a minority if he knows that Republicans and RNC Chair Steele are afraid to take part in an honest assessment of a nominee for fear of giving offense to a particular race or group of people.

It also seems Steele worries about giving offense even when the issue at stake isn't racially based. This was evident when he ran for the Senate in 2006 and said, "he didn't want President Bush campaigning for him." After seeing the grassroots conservative backlash over his treatment of Bush, Steele reversed course, asserted that Bush was his "homeboy," and welcomed the President to campaign for him if he happened to be in the state.

While I didn't agree with Steele's treatment of Bush, a man who stood when others wouldn't dare, I am quite offended by the fact that Steele seems unable to make a statement that won't be retracted within hours of a public outcry. When he does this he looks more like a reactionary than a leader. This was exemplified on March 1, 2009, when he said Limbaugh's way of opposing Obama's socialism was "incendiary" and "ugly," and then recanted it all within a few days (and a few thousand angry emails and phone calls). The bottom line is this: It appears that Steele only means what he says if what he says doesn't offend anyone.

Maybe this is what Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) has picked up on, and why he recently countered the claim that Steele is the leader of the Republican Party with: "'We won't know who our leader is until we have a presidential nominee in 2012."

Steele appears to be a nice enough guy, but leading the Republican Party isn't necessarily about being nice, it's about having a set of core, conservative convictions on which he will stand come hell or high water. It seems that Steele lacks such convictions. Therefore, as long as he remains the Chair of the RNC there's a good chance the Republican Party will continue its rudderless drift toward oblivion.
Weakness comes in various shapes and forms. Sometimes it appears as an attempt to be above the fray by avoiding people in your own political party who have been ostracized for doing the right thing (as when President George W. Bush suffered a backlash for invading Iraq to overthrow the late Saddam Hussein). At other times it's evident in the habit of being so unsure of your leadership skills that you lash out at anyone who steals a bit of your spotlight via a principled stand (as when Rush Limbaugh was denounced for hoping President Obama's socialist-agenda fails).

At other times it appears as the raw inability to stand by anything you've said without vacillating (as when a party leader says one thing, only to take it back days later because of public outcry). Then there are those rare moments when weakness looks like all these things rolled into one, in which case we are probably talking about Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Michael Steele: the faltering leader of a struggling party.

When CNN announced Steele's ascension to the chairmanship of the RNC by pointing out Republicans had "elected their first African American party chief" I didn't give much thought to it. After all, who would expect CNN to do any less than focus on race? But the fact the Steele has a habit of focusing too much on race himself is an entirely different matter.

While running for a U.S. Senate seat in Maryland in 2006, Steele was clear about his support for affirmative action in responses he gave to a Baltimore Sun candidate questionnaire. To the question, "Are federal affirmative action programs necessary and effective?" Steele said: "Studies show enormous disparities still exist in education, healthcare, employment and economic opportunities along racial lines in the United States. I believe programs are still necessary to help close these divides." 

Were this an isolated example of Steele focusing on race, perhaps it wouldn't be worth worrying about, but it's not isolated at all. And it, coupled with his naïve attempts to broaden the Republican Party's appeal to the "hip hop" culture, has shown that Steele is hamstrung as a leader. He is frozen in place for fear of giving offense to this race or that one. Proof of this is seen in his hesitance to criticize Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, out of fear of losing Latino votes.

If Republicans in the Senate are foolish enough to view life through Steele's racially tinted lenses, they'll soon discover that a kid-glove approach to Sotomayor is but the tip of the iceberg: for Obama will always be smart enough to nominate a minority if he knows that Republicans and RNC Chair Steele are afraid to take part in an honest assessment of a nominee for fear of giving offense to a particular race or group of people.

It also seems Steele worries about giving offense even when the issue at stake isn't racially based. This was evident when he ran for the Senate in 2006 and said, "he didn't want President Bush campaigning for him." After seeing the grassroots conservative backlash over his treatment of Bush, Steele reversed course, asserted that Bush was his "homeboy," and welcomed the President to campaign for him if he happened to be in the state.

While I didn't agree with Steele's treatment of Bush, a man who stood when others wouldn't dare, I am quite offended by the fact that Steele seems unable to make a statement that won't be retracted within hours of a public outcry. When he does this he looks more like a reactionary than a leader. This was exemplified on March 1, 2009, when he said Limbaugh's way of opposing Obama's socialism was "incendiary" and "ugly," and then recanted it all within a few days (and a few thousand angry emails and phone calls). The bottom line is this: It appears that Steele only means what he says if what he says doesn't offend anyone.

Maybe this is what Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) has picked up on, and why he recently countered the claim that Steele is the leader of the Republican Party with: "'We won't know who our leader is until we have a presidential nominee in 2012."

Steele appears to be a nice enough guy, but leading the Republican Party isn't necessarily about being nice, it's about having a set of core, conservative convictions on which he will stand come hell or high water. It seems that Steele lacks such convictions. Therefore, as long as he remains the Chair of the RNC there's a good chance the Republican Party will continue its rudderless drift toward oblivion.