Real talk from one Ellison to another: This isn’t really the right time for U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to chair the Democratic National Committee.
That’s not to say Ellison doesn’t know what he’s doing. And it’s not saying he isn’t the on-the-ball tenacious champion of progressive causes we know him to be. But if there were ever a mistake made in the sloppy postelection panic that is the modern Democratic Party, it would be that moment when it soul-searched for leadership and could only come up with Ellison as its standard-bearer.
Not that it wouldn’t be tight to have a namesake (unrelated) placarded in the Democratic Party’s executive Hall of Fame. But faced with a reckoning unlike any other moment in the party’s relatively brief history as the “liberal” or “progressive” wing of American politics, Democrats need not venture down any more paths filled with uncertain heroes.
Of course, I know this is not the most popular sentiment. There is justifiably fiery excitement around the black Minnesota congressman’s bid to lead the party. Hard left-of-center luminaries like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are laying chips on Ellison, along with incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is also vouching for Ellison. He’s under enormous pressure to do so—he needs to keep peace on the left side of the chamber so he can leverage greater political opportunities for a minority party with little power.
Feeling the sting of the racist King Birther about to replace the first black president, many in the black political and activist universe view Ellison as a shared comeback kid, a consolation prize in the wake of a horrific political insult once complacently thought of as unimaginable (“No way in the world white people would be that stupid”). There will likely be no black faces in the Trump Cabinet, so some may find some emotional solace in one leading the most discombobulated and directionless party apparatus since President Jimmy Carter lost to B-list actor and “commie” hunter Ronald Reagan.
Yet, should Ellison rise to party chairman, here are three solid reasons why those who support him will end up regretting it sooner than they think:
1. This will be another Michael Steele moment … and that’s not a good thing.
Yeah, sorry, but this move feels a bit like the time Republicans picked former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele as their party chairman. Steele, too, was supposed to be that special black salve soothing wounds in the wake of electoral disaster: candidate Barack Obama, the black man with the funny non-Anglican name, trouncing a white Republican war hero in the race for the White House as Democrats snatched eight seats in the Senate to retake it and a historic 21 seats in the House to form a political triangle much like what Republicans will be enjoying soon.
Republicans knee-jerked with their own token black response, plucking the telegenic, pinstripe-suit-wearing, hip-hop-citing Steele as the answer. And even though Steele, rightfully, attempts to take credit for 2010—the biggest congressional midterm majority-party swing in more than 50 years—we all know how his tenure ended up: in crushing humiliation and defeat to present Chairman and soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Steele’s conservative colleagues used racial brushes to paint him as ineffective, some saying that he was too wrapped up in party-chair trappings, and others complaining that he was equally beguiled by media attention.
A similar scenario potentially awaits Ellison should he become DNC chairman. The party will be distracted by inevitable accusations that he’s more polished for TV cameras than fundraising, more inclined toward rhetorical gab and platitudes than the tedious work and routine of executive-level management.