This article was originally posted on Gapers Block.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele makes Joe Biden
look gaffe proof. It seems like every time you turn around on CNN, or
load up Huffington Post, Steele is explaining how the Republican Party
is the party of one-armed-midgets, Republicans fought to outlaw slavery in the Bill of Rights (it was actually the 13th amendment, not the first 10), and apologizing to Rush Limbaugh.
Which is why I went to the Chairman's appearance at DePaul University. I appreciate good stand up comedy.
Steele's appearance was sponsored by the campus Republicans and the
DePaul Cultural Center. An odd combination considering that the
Conservative Alliance had once sponsored an Affirmative Action Bake Sale
targeting the cultural center and organized pickets against the
speakers the Cultural Center invited such as Ward Churchill.
Steele is the first Black person to be the national chairman of the
RNC and was to speak on Conservatisms appeal to minority communities.
Instead he talked about its lack of an appeal.
When asked , "Why should Blacks vote Republican?" Steele responded
without hesitation, "You really don't have a reason to, to be honest.
We really haven't really done a good job of giving them a reason to...
We have failed miserably in that regard. We have lost sight of the
historic integral link between the party and African Americans."
But liberals looking to mock Steele's response should pay attention
to the context of the statement. Steele explained that part of what he
had been trying to do as RNC chairman was to "turn the elephant." He
complained that the Republican Party had used a Southern strategy that
alienated minority voters and that he hoped to "reestablish [the
Republican Party's] relationship with African Americans."
Steele said that the goal of the civil rights movement has changed.
"The fight to get a seat at the lunch counter is done. Your fight now
is to own the diner... ownership is what will define your generation.
I'm not talking about 'oh I got my own a house.' I'm talking about
legacy wealth. I'm talking about stuff that the Vanderbilt's and the
Rockefeller's and the Kennedy's did. That is now affordable to you...
but your going to have to fight for it."
Steele described ways he had attempted to reach out to blacks by
speaking at Black churches, and working with minority business groups.
Steele even explained his own experience being denied an interview for a
job once they realized that he was black. He encouraged Republicans to
reach out to minority voters, despite the disconnect between the two.
"You got a big hurdle. 1.) They don't trust you. 2.) They may not like
you. 3.) You've got something to offer. 4.) Put it on the table."
Is this the strategy to win the support of minority voters? Is
Steele the person to sell the Republican Party to anyone, let alone a
group of people who have been alienated from the GOP?
Steele seemed to have trouble grasping what inequality in the present
era means. He attempted to say that political interests lead to
inequality. "You have an interest, I have an interest... it matters
whose interests are bing served, how why and when." Which sort of makes
sense. Certainly Wall Street CEO's have a different interest than a
single mother living in Austin or Pilsen. Wall Street CEO's are also
more likely to have their interest served as well. I don't think Steele
meant it that way though.
Steele agreed that he measured equality in a relative sense rather
than an absolute sense. "Some people are comfortable with the level of
equality that they have, I've just never been one of those people. You
may be..... 'I got the job, I got this, I'm good.'" I think Steele
meant to say material wealth instead of equality. It would make more
sense if Steele was talking about wealth, but he kept saying equality.
What was even more striking was Steele's boring policy wonk answer to
a woman who asked about health care. The woman asked, "I have had 2
heart surgeries totaling 250 grand. I have lost my health insurance,
and my parents had to move to smaller house. Since you opposed Obama's
health care plan, what would you propose?"
Steele didn't display a single empathetic emotion. He did not tell
the woman that he hoped she was well, or that he was sorry for her
troubles. Instead Steele complained about lawyers who sue malpracticing
hospitals and insurance companies. "I don't know how you address
health care without addressing tort reform. I don't know how you
address health care without addressing the underlying costs to it."
Steele may be reaching out to minorities, but the policies he
proposes would negatively impact those same communities. Steele is the
consummate snake oil salesman. He wants to encourage minorities
becoming millionaires, but wants to cut the welfare programs that people
rely on. Steele says he wants to reduce health care costs, but doesn't
even lay out a plan for minorities to afford health care. Steele
proposes school vouchers which would take even more resources away from
the schools that need them.