The Man of Steele
Last Monday, Michael Steele was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee. Most of the media attention focused on his race (black), with a lot of comparisons being made with Barack Obama’s election of President of the United State. And as with Obama, it’s hard not to be at least a little inspired that the leaders of both major political parties are black men; men who only sixty years ago would have had trouble simply voting.
But Michael Steele is more than just a black face. His vision of the RNC is fundamentally different from that of former chairmen. Mike Duncan, Steele’s predecessor, saw raising money as his primary goal. Directing the ideology and strategy of the Republican party came second.
Not so with Steele. He sees himself as the public face (or at least one of the major public faces), of the Republican party. He means to shape the party over the course of his tenure—emphasize winning issues and candidates, and weed out those issues and candidates that aren’t attracting voters. Steele will do his best to remake the Republican party.
Is this is a good thing? It can be. Putting men like Steele in positions of power is a high risk, high reward gamble. If Steele’s ideas work, the Republican party will be incalculably stronger. But if they don’t—if he turns voters off and can’t rally the Republican base—his tenure will be a disaster.
Mike Duncan was a safe pick—he was very good at fundraising, but stayed in the background and didn’t rock the boat much. Steele isn’t as safe. But given where the Republican party is politically, I think picking someone like Steele is the way to go. And given Steele’s past record, his chances of success are reasonably good.