by Tonyaa Weathersbee, BlackAmericaWeb.com
Ed Rollins is right. Michael Steele has been a disaster.
Rollins, a Republican Party strategist who managed Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign, recently just came right out and said on “Face the Nation” that Steele, the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee, had failed to raise money and articulate a message, and that whatever he does between now and November will be largely irrelevant.
But even though Steele hasn’t quite worked out as a black first for a party whose policies have, at least for the past three decades, conspired to keep most blacks last, it’s kind of hard to blame him for not being able to articulate a message – when that message continues to be hijacked and honed by extremists in the party.
We saw this happen early on when Steele – who still clings to the belief that the GOP wants to become the party of Lincoln again – was forced to apologize to Rush Limbaugh after describing the rightwing talk show host as an entertainer who makes “ugly” and “incendiary” remarks.
Steele told the truth. But he wound up having to cower to a racist rather than stand up for what was real.
We saw it again when Steele couldn’t manage to bring himself to call out the Tea Party for its tolerance of the bigots and epithet-hurlers in its ranks, lest he alienate an important part of the GOP base.
So now, the black head of the Republican Party’s major fundraising arm is a now a hostage – hostage to a faction that includes people who aren’t so sure blacks ought to be voting in the first place.
That’s got to be uncomfortable.
Sure, Steele’s tenure as GOP chair has been marred by a strip club scandal and abandonment by big-money donors – something that has happened, in part, because he slipped up and spoke his anti-neoconservative mind on abortion and the Afghanistan war.
But the fact that someone like Rollins had no compunction in publicly announcing Steele’s marginalization reinforces a deeper, painful reality for blacks who believe that their power to reshape a party or a movement is going to be stronger than the pull of tradition.
The reality is that it won’t be. And, in the case of the Republican Party, if they can’t fire someone like Steele, what they’ll do is make them invisible.
It’s happened before – and to a black first far more competent and more respected than Steele. That person was Colin Powell.
Powell, a four-star general, made history when former President George W. Bush tapped him as the first black secretary of state. He was even lauded as being a potential GOP presidential candidate.
But even he ran into trouble when he disagreed with his boss on affirmative action. And he ran into deeper trouble when he disagreed with Bush’s chicken hawk vice president, Dick Cheney, over attacking Iraq.
It was Powell who advised Bush to give the weapons inspections and the sanctions a chance to work. It was Cheney who was feverish for war. In the end, Bush listened to Cheney, and relegated Powell to invisibility.
It was about that time when Powell realized that he wasn’t about to make any real difference in that Republican administration. So he didn’t stick around for Bush’s second term.
Steele, however, is no Powell. He’s spent much of his life being a professional black Republican, so chances are he’ll keep doing that if the money keeps coming.
As critical as I am of black Republicans, I confess that I felt a tinge of optimism for the party when Steele won the chairmanship. But now it seems he was handed a job by a party that needed his color more than his ideas; that needed him to be a token and not a trailblazer.
And Steele’s predicament ought to give him some insight into the invisibility that so many average black people have to grapple with – and how even if you cave in and do what those who would marginalize you want, you can wind up being invisible anyway.