Sunday, March 1, 2009

Titular Heads

When I awoke yesterday and contemplated how I would spend a end-of-winter Saturday, I had no idea that a pair of speeches from two dissimilar events would each on their own put a choke hold on my ever-diminishing attention span, and in juxtaposition would create enough heat to turn winter into summer. On the one hand, representing the new "post-Reagan" Republican Party - fresh from its "hip-hop makeover" - comes newly-installed Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele.

During his remarks to Tavis Smiley's 10th annual
State of the Black Union
(SOBU), Steele began by issuing a meandering and entirely unnecessary mea culpa for supposed GOP transgressions (a la former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman.) In addressing the African American community's transition from voting Republican to being in lockstep (make that goosestep) with Democrats, Steele spoke thusly:

During... that last 60 or 70 years of history, the Republican Party effectively walked away from the [black] community. They were afraid to really embrace civil rights, even though they embraced civil rights legislation... A lot of folks over the years walked away.. to employ what was basically a Southern Strategy."
Like Mehlman before him, Steele bears a political mark of Ham, a stain upon his conscience that is most visible when in the presence of light reflected from the faces of eternally-indignant African Americans, as best evidenced by Steele later condemning the New York Post's "Chimpgate" as "a stupid, ignorant cartoon."

Of course, as discussed elsewhere, it is hardly the GOP that needs to apologize to black America for anything; if an apology were necessary, it would be a bystander's expression of regret for standing idly by while Democrats pimp-slap the black community with no pity or remorse.
To be sure, Steele absolutely needed to be at SOBU. But Steele and the party are best served when he comes not as an apologist for imaginary sins of Republicans but rather as an evangelist for the conservative agenda.

At the other extreme, we contemplate
made yesterday by Rush Limbaugh to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Where Chairman Steele was in a defensive crouch, Limbaugh was clearly on offense. As is his wont, Limbaugh made the case for conservatism by demonstrating where the Left and liberalism have failed their adherents, and by recalling the successes of conservatism - especially under its most consistent practitioner in recent times, Ronald Reagan.

Limbaugh dismissed out of hand the notion that the conservative movement needed any sort of retooling, asking instead whether freedom and "little-d" democracy needed to be retooled or reimagined. Standing in front of an American flag mural, Limbaugh looked quite like the George S. Patton of conservatism. In his iteration, Steele came across as his party's George McClellan, very much willing to wear a soldier's uniform, but also very unwilling to fight a soldier's fight.

As 18 years of real-world sales experience have taught me, if you can't differentiate it, you can't sell it. If Steele hopes to sell the GOP and conservatism more generally, he will need to abandon such bogusness as "hip-hop makeovers" and sharpen his elbows just a touch (or at least sharpen the distinctions between us and them.) At this point, I will confess that I consider providing guidance to Chairman Steele to be as useless as attempting to drain the ocean with a thimble; Steele has always struck me as being what a Texan would describe as "all hat and no cattle."

Before and since his stint as Maryland's Lieutenant-governor, he seemed to wander aimlessly from pillar to post. His time as the Chair of GOPAC was singularly unremarkable, and he was certainly not a slam dunk for his current post, having won only after six rounds of voting (and the withdrawal of three of his opponents.) Given the current social and political climates, if the GOP needs a black face for pomp and ceremony, then Steele may yet fill the bill. But as Democrats from Barack Obama on down are doubtless aware, it is Limbaugh who energizes conservatism's heart.

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