Michael Steele Gets Real. Or Does He?

This exchange between Roland Martin and Michael Steele is pretty amusing:

MARTIN: How do you -- granted, a popular president got 95% of the black vote -- you got any shot at getting black voters and if so what are the two issues that speaks to black voters for Republican have a shot at them?

STEELE: Education and the economy. Education and jobs. Education and small business.

MARTIN: But your candidates got to talk to them. One of the criticisms I've always had is Republicans -- white Republicans -- have been scared of black folks.

STEELE: You're absolutely right. I mean I've been in the room and they've been scared of me. I'm like, "I'm on your side" and so I can imagine going out there and talking to someone like you, you know, [you're like,] "I'll listen." And they're like "Well." Let me tell you. You saw in Christie and you saw in McDonnell a door open because they went in and engaged. McDonnell was very deliberate about spending --

This is yet another example of Steele being hilariously off-message and contradicting the central contract of his selection as RNC chair, which is that he is meant to deflect accusations of racism against Republicans -- not confirm them, challenge them, and thus change the party for the better. I'm not even sure that he's capable of doing the latter -- partially because I don't sense any great conviction from Steele on this point. All of his high profile "gaffes" aren't really examples of him "being honest" so much as they are attempts to please the audience he's communicating with.

So here, Steele is talking to the liberal-leaning Roland Martin, on a show on a black TV network, and he says that some white Republicans are "scared of him." This statement both reasserts his racial authenticity and communicates to Martin's audience that he is aware of the race problems in the GOP. But as party chair, he's been entirely willing to enable the GOP's racial rhetoric rather than challenge it. Quite frankly, whether some white Republicans are scared of him or not, they have absolutely no reason to be, and that's a shame.

I don't know that I believe that Steele's answer has any relation to his experience as RNC chair -- it seems just as likely to me that he's trying to convince Martin that he isn't party to the implicit bargain that got him to where he is. When Steele isn't speaking to a black audience, for example, he tends to sound very different. Philip Klein once compared Steele to Zelig -- but of course Zelig changed and blended out of a survival instinct. Steele seems to be acting out of a desire for approval, regardless of how he ends up contradicting himself.

-- A. Serwer

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