Sunday, May 03, 2009

Michael Steele the Magically Disappearing Negro

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele must have been struck by terminal amnesia. He yukked at and agreed with the swipe a radio caller took at President Obama. The caller called him “the magic negro.” That’s the goofy, tired, worn, ditty that tags Obama as a black man with the supposedly impregnable Teflon shield that renders him immune to any and all criticism, adversity, or just plain bad political luck.

A few weeks back a GOP big shot lambasted then RNC chairman Chip Saltzman for releasing the CD that parodied Obama as the magic negro. The GOP big shot that did the lambasting was Steele. In the short weeks Steele’s been the RNC chief the parade of Steele contradictions, gaffes, shoot from the lip quips, political mugging, media hamming and grandstanding, and alleged financial hijinks, combined with his seemingly insatiable knack for pissing off one and all, and especially one in all in his own GOP, could fill up a mini-telephone book.

The squeals for Steele’s hide by red faced GOP grousers have gotten so loud that even long defrocked GOP bloviator Newt Gingrich had to come to Steele’s rescue. But even that rescue effort seemed more a case of Gingrich using the Steele flap to ax grind with GOP foes than a heart felt bail out of Steele.

Then there’s Limbaugh. Steele first picked a fight with the talk show kingpin, next did a quick mea culpa, and since then has taken pains to zip his lip on the near hourly verbal inanities that gush from the mouth of the GOP’s de facto air waves guru.

Steele’s greatest offense though tells much of why he and the GOP are in what far right-side former Georgia congressman Bob Barr calls deep trouble. He forgot what got him the RNC chair. Steele campaigned hard for the top spot on the promise that he’d be the poor man’s Obama of the GOP. In his acceptance speech Steele prattled on about making the GOP a party of inclusiveness. This is the word that the GOP has forgotten how to say, spell, let alone put into any semblance of practice since Bush loudly declared that it was going to be the party's watchword in 2000, and then just as publicly did everything he could to make sure that it wasn’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, college educated voters than ever and there are fewer white, rural, non college educated, aged, white male votes than ever. It didn’t take a math wizard to figure that if the GOP stays stuck on trying to win national elections with the same bunch that brought victory in years past it will be well on its way to being a party that can hold future conventions in an airport telephone booth.

But numbers and political realities are one thing, the heat Steele took from GOP hardliners who like things just the way they are, and think that the way to shore up the floodwaters is to keep sticking there fingers in the hole in the dike is another. Steele got the message, dutifully added his finger to the the other GOP dike hole pluggers, then made like Limbuagh and made wild sounds about how the GOP moderates were ruining the party, and vowed retribution against them. He ranted about staying true to the GOP’s less government, less foreign policy engagement with foes, less regulations, more free market remedies, tough defense, and bashing Obama. So much for the GOP’s march under General Steele to a new political millenium.

So under Steele’s watch the GOP (and Steele) has supplied legions of comics with a storehouse of laughingstock fodder, degenerated into endless carping and fingerpointing, lost one and soon another Senate seat, and reduced itself to a toothless, fangless political impotency. Under Steele’s watch polls now show that barely one out of five voters now say they have any hard allegiance to the GOP, and that might be overstating the numbers.

Steele guffawed at a radio caller’s magic negro crack about Obama. But so far the only magic that Steele has worked is to create even more chaos in the GOP. That kind of magic may soon make Steele the disappearing negro.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on

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