Michael Steele must have been struck by terminal amnesia.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman yukked at and agreed with the swipe that a radio caller took at President Barack Obama. The caller referred to Obama as “the magic Negro,” a callback to the goofy, tired, worn parodic ditty that tags the president as a black man whose race is a supposedly impregnable Teflon shield, rendering him immune to any and all criticism, adversity or political bad luck. A while back, a GOP big shot lambasted former RNC chairman Chip Saltzman for releasing the CD containing the song that parodied Obama as the “magic Negro.”
The big shot that did the lambasting? Michael Steele.
In the three short months since Steele became the head of the RNC, he has led a parade of contradictions, gaffes, shoot-from-the-hip quips, political mugging, media hamming, grandstanding and allegations of financial hijinks, combined with a seemingly innate knack for angering one and all, especially within his own party.
The squeals for Steele’s hide emanating from red-faced GOP grousers have gotten so loud that even long-defrocked party bloviator Newt Gingrich had to come to the former Maryland lieutenant governor’s rescue (though the rescue effort seemed more a case of Gingrich using the Steele flap to grind an ax with GOP foes than a heartfelt bailout of the embattled chair).
Then there’s Rush Limbaugh. First, Steele picked a fight with the talk show kingpin over who was really calling the shots within the Republican Party. Then he tendered a quick mea culpa, and has since taken pains to zip his lip about the near-hourly verbal inanities that gush from the mouth of the GOP’s de facto guru of the airwaves.
Steele’s greatest offense, though, tells much about why he and his party are in what far-right former Georgia congressman Bob Barr calls “deep trouble” — he forgot what got him the RNC chair.
He campaigned hard for the GOP’s top spot on the promise that he’d be a poor man’s Obama for the party. In his acceptance speech, Steele prattled on about making the Republican Party one of inclusiveness — a word that the GOP has forgotten how to say and spell, let alone put into any semblance of practice, in the years since George W. Bush’s 2000 declaration that it would be the party’s watchword (and his subsequent public actions to ensure that it wouldn’t).
Steele crunched the numbers and saw that the country’s political and demographic landscape has radically changed in the past decade, and will likely change even more in the next decade. There are more minority, women, gay, young, urban and college-educated voters than ever, and fewer white, rural, non-college-educated, older, male voters. It didn’t take a math wizard to figure out that if the GOP stays stuck on trying to win national elections with the same base that brought victory in years past, it will be well on its way to being able to hold future conventions in an airport telephone booth.
But numbers and political realities are one thing; the heat that Steele took from GOP hardliners is another.
There are many within the party who like things just the way they are, thank you very much, and think that the way to shore up the floodwaters is to just keep sticking their fingers in the holes in the dam. Steele got the message, dutifully added his finger to the ranks of GOP hole-pluggers, then made like Limbaugh and started vowing retribution against the moderates allegedly ruining the Republican Party.
He ranted about staying true to the party line — less government, less foreign policy engagement with foes, fewer regulations, more free-market remedies, tough national defense and bashing Obama. So much for the Republican march to a new political millennium under General Steele.
As a result, under Steele’s brief watch, the party and its leader have supplied legions of comics with a storehouse of laughingstock fodder, degenerated into endless carping and finger-pointing, lost a Senate seat and reduced themselves to a gaggle of toothless political impotents. Polls now show that barely one out of five voters say they have any hard allegiance to the GOP, and that might be overstating the numbers.
Steele guffawed at the radio caller’s “magic Negro” crack about Obama. But so far, the only magic that Steele has worked is to create even more chaos within the GOP. That kind of trick may soon make Steele disappear.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a syndicated columnist, author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report,” can be heard in Los Angeles on KTYM 1460 AM and online at http://www.blogtalkradio.com.