January 31, 2009

The Republicans’ Obama

There?s an old joke that goes, ?Whatdaya call the only black person?er, excuse me, African- American?at an official Republican gathering.? The punch line??Mr. Keynote Speaker.? I guess we can now change that to ?Mr. Chairman of the Republican National Committee.?

I?ve noticed that Michael Steele has been a poster boy for the GOP for a number of years now: He was put on a panel at the 2007 National Review Institute conference, he’s often dutifully gone on Hannity and Colmes to defend the regime, and I even remember getting GOP-affiliated emails with banners reading ?Drill, Baby, Drill?Right Here, Right Now? accompanied by a picture of Steele pointing off into the distance somewhere with an intrepid look in his eye. 

I never knew that the former lieutenant governor of Maryland was an expert on energy policy. Indeed, I have no earthly idea where Steele stands on a host of issues. Reading Jay Nordlinger?s 2005 profile in National Review, I learned that Steele is a ?Reaganite? (whatever that means, is there a Republican in the country who?d say he anti-Reagan?), a ?staunch supporter of George W. Bush” (super!), and that he may have pressured a private country club in Maryland to start having black members (or “get with it” in Nordlinger’s words). I learned from wikipedia that Steele is Mike Tyson?s brother-in-law, which I actually found humanizing and charming. Everyone has an embarrassing relative or two, and boy oh boy, Steele has got his!

What Steele will actually do with the Republican platform is a mystery to everyone. In his acceptance speech, he promised us ?something completely different.? Which sounds like he really is the GOP?s ?Obama?? as ?something completely different? is just about as precise and consequential as ?Hope? and ?Change.? 

What Steele?s admirers at NRO and elsewhere like most, of course, is his ?bravery? in being a ?black Republican,? and stories are repeated again and again of Steele heroically enduring ?Uncle Tom? catcalls from angry liberal bloggers and standing tall while being pelted with Oreos (?black on the outside, white on inside?) at a campaign rally in 2002. Steele is given less credit by these writers for his heroic fending off of floral bouquets tossed his way by GOP operative and his agility in not slipping on those rose petals cast before him whenever he appears at official Republican gatherings.

A friend of mine has suggested that in February we go to the Conservative Political Action Conference with a video camera and interview some of the ardent undergrads in attendance, asking them what they think of Michael Steele. I?m sure, ?He?s sooo articulate/brave/dynamic? would be common refrains. The next question would be, ?Can you name the lieutenant governor of your state?? and then, ?Can you name another lieutenant governor in the country?? I expect silence and bafflement.       

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