I can hear it now. Better still, I have heard it already.
“Michael Steele is nothing but a token pick by the Republican Party.”
“Republicans only did this to have a black leader to match Obama.”
Well, true and false.
Michael Steele is the new chairman of the Republican Party in some part (if not a large part) because of President Barack Obama. However, he is not a token selection nor did the Republicans do this to just to have a black face as the new image of the party.
The current image of the Republican Party is one that caters to the old, the white and the rich. The candidacies of two successful black Republicans (former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele) for the GOP’s top post stand in complete contrast to that accepted view.
With the election of Steele after several rounds of balloting, Republicans have shown that they used a different set of criteria to determine who should lead the party for the next two years. This comes on the heels of a historic Democratic victory for the White House and sweeping Republican defeat nationwide.
Yes, the Obama win had a hand in Steele’s election as GOP chair, but it’s not because both men are black. All the elements that went into Barack Obama’s campaign for president, are exactly what the Republican Party needs if it is to reverse its current fortunes. For example, Obama’s effective use of the Internet for advertising and voter contact stood out in contrast to the Republicans’ failure to leverage technology to their advantage. Obama’s affability and eloquence was regarded as a strength while public image of the 21st century Republican is the awkwardness of former President George W. Bush and gaffes of Gov. Sarah Palin.
Republicans learned through the huge losses of the 2008 election that they cannot beat eloquence with polarizing campaign rhetoric.
Also aware of the desperate need to connect with younger voters, urban voters and ethnic voters, Republicans came to an obvious conclusion: They had to do something different. Although many Republicans will admit that Steele was not their first choice, all can now admit that his skill set best equips the party to make strides during the next two years.
Delegates knew that whether they chose Steele or not, it would bring criticism—darned if they picked him, darned if they didn’t.
Or, more like, “Tokenism if they picked him, racism if they didn’t.”
But Steele’s popularity with young Republicans along with his regular television appearances will allow him the opportunity to talk to audiences who may give the GOP a second looks as a result, especially if Democrats fail at turning around the economy.
Change has come to both major political parties; the leaders of both are now black men. That is real diversity. It is time for black America to set aside accusations of tokenism and set its sights on its own political diversity.
Lenny McAllister is a regular political commentator and occasional guest co-host for Fox Charlotte’s morning show Fox News Rising.
Today, 12 p.m.: Join the washingtonpost.com Live Online discussion on MICHAEL STEELE AND THE GOP's FUTURE with The Root's deputy editor Terence Samuel.