I have to confess that when I saw then Illinois Senator Barack Obama snub the 2008 State of the Black Union program hosted by Tavis Smiley and Tom Joyner, I saw it as a bad omen for the black community. However, the fact that Michael Steele, the black Republican and former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, took the time to make an appearance was an even worse sign of things to come.
Mr. Obama couldn’t appear to be too connected to the black community because as a national collective we have an overwhelmingly strong need to see any positive affiliation from a black politician with the black community as being too black to be good for everyone. Mr. Obama has to keep his distance. And people justify this behavior by saying Mr. Obama wasn’t going to be the president of black America, but the president of all of America. However, Mr. Obama’s various appearances in front of more generic and therefore more predominantly white organizations were never dismissed as him trying to be the president of white America. The contrast is pretty stark.
But the Republican Mr. Steele wasn’t under any such constraint. Mr. Steele could do whatever he thought appropriate to sell the idea of the Republican Party to the predominantly black audience. I have to admit that from what I can remember of the program, Mr. Steele’s appearance on the show was smooth. He was somewhat conciliatory over the fact that the Bush administration never bothered to make much of an effort to mend its relationship with the black community. But regardless, Mr. Steele made a point to say that the black community needs to stay vigilant with any and all levels of government from the local to the national. It was a pretty good performance for Mr. Steele who downplayed his affiliation with conservatives.
At the time, one black politician was working to distance himself from the black community. The black vote was in the bag so his focus was to appeal to others. The other black politician was working to minimize his affiliation with the others. Black people don’t vote his party’s affiliation so he had to spend his focus appealing to black people.
From there, Mr. Obama went on to become the nominee for president from the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Steele went on to stand in front of the Republican National Committee, working the virtually all white crowd with frenzied refrains of drill baby drill. Gone was the rather agreeable Mr. Steele at the State of the Black Union. Hello Mr. Steele the passionate representative of politically conservative ideologies. No black people in the house? That’s okay because at the end of this Republican politician’s day all that matters is drill baby drill. The conditions of the black community didn’t even register for they’re not really all that important. All the Republican Party wanted was to siphon off a greater percentage of black votes in order to win more political offices.
From there, Mr. Obama went even further and became the first black president of the United States. His popularity rivals the best of any brand new president. People are putting a lot of faith into his administration after dealing with the disappointments of his predecessor for so many years. People may not believe in their federal government, but at least they are willing to give Mr. Obama the benefit of a doubt at the moment. Mr. Obama enjoys so much of the public’s goodwill that a lot of people have become rather sensitive to some of the tactics people play on people of color. Which leads to somewhat of a dilemma, what would be the best way to take down a popular black president?
Mr. Steele went further as well. He is now the leading figurehead of the Republican Party, an organization that is for the most part void of black participants. Another contender for this title fell by the wayside after his rather juvenile attempts at humor at the expense of racial sensitivity went over so well. People should note that distributing CDs with such hits as Barack the Magic Negro does little to create a sense of racial inclusion. And another contender for the title decided enough was enough and the time had finally come to cancel his membership at his exclusively white country club after enjoying years of rubbing elbows in an environment that mimicked a Republican Party convention. The odds for Mr. Steele’s selection got better with each passing day.
But nevertheless, it is no mere coincidence that an organization so empty of black people selects a black man as their front man when the main opponent in their struggle for political aspirations is a wildly popular black president. When there’s a raging fire you fight fire with fire. When there’s a popular black president you fight black with black. Don’t want to take a chance of appearing too racist talking about Mr. Obama’s weaknesses? Get a black man to do your dirty work for you.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Steele cannot, or will not, see how he is being played. All too often people are much too willing to let themselves be used if they can achieve some personal benefit in the process. Mr. Steele could’ve used his new position to talk about how the Republicans will reach out to the black community like he did when he gave his two cents at the State of the Black Union.
Instead, he will use his position to attack a fellow black politician. He applauds the bloc mentality of his Republican compatriots in the House of Representatives to deny the stimulus package Mr. Obama seeks to put America back on the economic tracks. Mr. Steele speaks with the same selfish tone of Rush Limbaugh who said he hoped Mr. Obama fails in his attempts to turn the country around. Better to wish people continue to suffer so someone can gloat rather than run the risk of having a political opponent offer lasting economic solutions.
True, Mr. Steele is probably just very passionate about his conservative principles. He’s so coo-coo for conservatism that he’s willing to take up the mantle to attack the first black president. Just imagine what Mr. Steele might be capable of if he was just half as passionate about the black community. Chances are he wouldn’t have to convince anybody at the State of the Black Union of his black community affiliation. It would be on his sleeve, kind of like his conservative principles.