Thursday, March 5, 2009

Michael Steele's Impotence

Let me preface my disparaging rant about Michael Steele by doing the required disclaimer that comes if you actually know someone personally : After meeting Mr. Steele at an event this past weekend, I have tremendous respect for the man. His charm, affability, and determination to debunk the myth that African Americans are a politically monolithic group is impressive.

Now, let’s get on with the business of unabashed criticism.

For those not familiar with the recent kafuffle between Steele and conservative, shock jock radio host Rush Limbaugh, here’s a quick summary:

During an interview over the weekend with CNN’s D.L. Hughley, Michael Steele was quoted as saying that “Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh—his whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it's incendiary. Yes, it's ugly." When Hughley referred to the radio host as "the de facto leader of the Republican party." Steele replied decisively, "No he's not. I'm the de facto leader of the Republican party,"

Bravo, Mr. Steele for taking to task the biggest blemish on your party’s new and improving reputation. It was, I hoped, a forecast of other house cleaning to come.

But my excitement was short-lived.

Limbaugh promptly responded as most imbeciles do to the truth: with anger and incredulity. Within hours, Mr. Steele retracted his honest and courageous statements so quickly and completely, I had to google the story to make sure that it hadn’t all been a figment of my imagination.

“I looked back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking,” Steele said. "It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people … want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he’s not. I’m not going to engage these guys and sit back and provide them the popcorn for a fight between me and Rush Limbaugh. No such thing is going to happen. … I wasn’t trying to slam him or anything.”

Seriously? Because the last time I checked, Rush Limbaugh was, actually, the boogeyman.

More insightful than that finer point, is this: To have the official, appointed head of the Party cow-towing to a hot-headed radio personality either dramatically inflates Limbaugh’s importance or actually confirms and exposes the reality that Michael Steele tried to disguise in his original statement: Steele is but a figurehead, beholden to the same old guard leadership, rhetoric, and one can assume, divisive and separatist strategies of the Republican party.

I have, up until now, given Mr. Steele the benefit of the doubt. I cringed when progressives and African Americans called him Unlce Tom and Sambo for daring to be a black Republican.

Perhaps my willingness to forgive him his place within an overwhelmingly racist and classist political party comes from my own religious experiences. Indulge me if you will this dissimilar but analogous comparison:

I have been a member of my non-denominational but Baptist/Pentecostal-leaning church since I was 9 months old. My parents, its founding pastors, started the church in our basement and since then have grown it, beyond my father’s untimely death in the pulpit nine years ago, into a small but thriving community. Throughout the course of the past 25 years however, and in particular during my academic and professional awakening, I have developed decidedly liberal political and thus theological views as compared to the rest of my congregation and its clergy (still led by our fearless pastor, my mother). Despite these differences of theory, and sometimes practice, I hold several leadership positions within the ministry due in part to my love for the people and the fundamental (not fundamentalist) principles which provided a foundation for my growth, spiritual maturity and wellbeing.

The justification for my staying despite some pretty significant differences in theological interpretation is that without me, I fear that the church I so desperately love might become more conservative on issues of choice and sexuality, and thus farther and farther away from where I believe they are actually called to be. In short, I love them too much to not believe in their eventual enlightenment.

It is with this background and context that I, perhaps foolishly, identified with Michael Steele. I believed his pleas that there could be open-minded, balanced, people – people of color, for that matter - within the Republican party just as I hope many believe my cries that there can be open-minded, politically progressive people within a largely evangelical religious institution.

So against my better judgement, I turned the other cheek during his 2006 Senate race when it was discovered that someone paid homeless people to distribute inaccurate fliers in my home county, an overwhelmingly Democratic precinct. The materials blatantly lied and said that the Ehrlich-Steele ticket was a Democratic ticket.

Maybe he wasn’t capitalizing on the ignorance of low-information voters and in particular voters of color in my neighborhood. Maybe the voter suppression ploy had nothing to do with him, and he was just a victim of the type of dirty politics that his colleagues played, just as well-meaning Hillary supporters were often victims of the guilty-by-association racism that was instigated by other anti-Obama Democrats.

I tried to turn the other cheek…again against my better judgement… several weeks ago when he began throwing around phrases like “bling bling” and talking about “off the hook” strategies to recruit young people to the Party. Maybe he wasn’t tokenizing young people and in particular, young people of color, and in particular, young people of color who identify with hip hop culture. Maybe he’s just an old guy trying to understand the MTV generation?

But I’ve now run out of cheeks to turn (or at least any that I’d like to include in this metaphor).

Michael Steele’s apology as the head of the party to Rush Limbaugh could be compared to me ascending to senior pastor, arguably the penultimate position of leadership within my church, and still espousing, allowing or supporting beliefs that wholly represent the congregation that are contrary to my own. Even worse, it would be like me as the senior pastor, cowering under the reprimand of a loud-mouthed usher who happens to have the meanest, ugliest church members behind her .

Why backtrack on the three kernels of truth said during the interview? 1. Rush Limbaugh is entertainment. 2. He says ugly things. 3. Steele is the confirmed leader of the party.

To say that this was a misstatement all but shouts that 1. Rush Limbaugh is more than entertainment – he is certified, significant leadership and the things that he says on his shock jock radio show are to be taken as serious, substantive views that represent your party. 2. What he says is not ugly, and even his most incendiary remarks are not worthy of reprimand. 3. Even you must answer to him, because you are an impotent RNC chairman.

How disappointing.

Mr. Steele, if you are going to continue to do your traveling road show, attempting to convince everyone, and in particular communities of color, that you are the breath of fresh air that the Party so desperately needs, we’re going to need some proof. (Or has us hip hoppers like to say – We don’t believe you. You need more people.) Start bringing to the forefront some fresh leaders – the ones who you swear up and down have been biding time during the Bush years feeling as if the rhetoric and policies of hatred, oppression and fear don’t represent them as loving, positive, open-minded Republicans. Because until I see you practicing what you preach and unveiling at least a solid contingency of your party that values diversity, equality, and civility as much as you say you do, you’re going to have a difficult time changing the party from inside Rush Limbaugh’s shadow.


  1. Amen! Well said.

    I caught part of an interview w/ you on C-span radio tonight & sought out your blog. I too am a DC area/MD resident and found myself baffled by M. Steele's kowtowing to Rush. I could only conclude that this is a sad and desperate time for the GOP & M. Steele is finding himself in the same unwinnable position that McCain did, feeling forced to cater to the "base" of his party rather than be the maverick or agent of change committed to outreach to a diverse America.

    I couldn't find you on twitter. Would you kindly take the plunge? (& perhaps link to here?) We could use a voice like yours in the twitter-verse. :)

  2. Well said. Now the burden of proof is on those who support historic nation saving Change during the Obama era.

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  4. hey erica....this is an American Indian student from a university that enrolls, so you can understand my interest in politics....because my major is american indian studies, i have not been exposed to as many african-american issues....i am grateful for the information i gained from your c-span interview.....i gotta say that your beauty stopped my remote, but your intelligence kept my are truly the most articulate person i can remember hearing....i look forward to reading your future works.....p.s. i searched for your profile before i thought to search for your blog, so accept the friend request from billy.

  5. right on erica.... preach sista preach. The GOP's "black" outreach feels so phony and disingenous. I look forward to more of your blogs.

  6. I watched the 10th Annual State of the Black Union from start to finish, barely moving for essentials. Like most people when I heard the name Michael Steele I dismissed this "token negro" and decided when he spoke would be when I would get up to address the necessary. But the TV was still on and with his first words, I had an "ah ha" moment (a beautiful surprise)...”maybe I should give the “brotha” the benefit of the doubt. I sat down and listened to what he had to say.
    The issue with Rush Limbaugh is not a surprise. It is typical of “mainstream” America to be incredulous in the face of an assertion of authority – especially a black man. The “old guard” has always had an over inflated opinion of their self worth. Rush Limbaugh’s response 60 years ago would have been to grab the rest of the “good old boys” and string up the “offending darky” to send a message to anybody else who might feel the need to get out of “place”. Just one generation back “his people” handled things on the road less traveled in a clearing with a rope and a tree. The best he can do now is double words back on themselves to create a metaphorical noose and dangle Michael Steele in front of his party members ineffectual and useless.
    Michael Steele’s response is also reminiscent of the actions black men took when a white man, “his better” takes offense. Eyes go immediately downcast, in Michael Steele’s case - the shoulders held so rigid, on stage during the State of the Union on 02/28/2009, go limp, folding under the weight of crumpled self respect. This is an interesting reaction and underscores the fact that there is still a race problem in America. White men do not feel like ANYONE is their equal, especially not a black man. Michael Steele fell in line because that is what he is used to doing. This is the main reason I felt Barack Obama would not be President. It makes me proud to know it happened, but it is the reason we are seeing an increase in hate crimes.
    What did surprise me is how quickly many of us who are familiar with the term “tokenism” still were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Black people have a history of adopting “the wait and see what he’s going to do” policy when it comes to a black person ascending to a loftier position, but we have all of American History to look at to know the answer to that question. The answer is what separates educated “African Americans” from the “black folks” living in the “hood”. It is not even insulting to think that “they” would think any old black face would do. “Mainstream” Americans idea of how to relate to “black” Americans has always been a hair off because it is done from an assumed position of authority. Authority most black people don’t acknowledge. What is insulting is that Michael Steele and others like him care more about what “mainstream” America thinks about them than their race does, their family does – or even what they think about themselves.
    What we have in Michael Steele is a black man who has for all intents in purposes assimilated in white society by emulating what “they” do, adopting their beliefs to such a degree that the only thing that keeps him “black” is his skin color – the very thing that keeps him from being white. And for all that they hired him to do the one thing that he tried his best not to do…relate to “urban” and “suburban” blacks. In other words…he is a “black” dude…trying to be a white dude…playing a black dude…(I crack myself up) to which I caught myself saying,"...just because Michael Steele is "African-American" doesn't mean he is for the "black". Michael Steele made his choice. He like most “black “ people in pursuit of the American dream decided to be as “white” as their black skin would allow and in doing so they crossed a line that was drawn years ago. The black community is not monolithic and I can’t hear that enough.
    Slurs like “Uncle Tom” and “House N-“ underscore the fact that we are not living in a post racial America. With the election of Barack Obama the RNC missed the message America was sending…we did not want a black man to be president, we wanted an effective “person” to be president – and he just happened to be “black”. The Michael Steele/Rush Limbaugh issue is bigger than either one of them because it speaks to the heart of what is wrong with America. In “Lean on Me” Robert Guilluame’s character told “Joe Clark” …”contrary to popular belief I am the H.N.I.C.” There is nothing wrong with flexing your muscle when you are in a position to do so. However, if there is someone in a position to force you to apologize to someone you thought was beneath you, you are not the H.N.I.C.

  7. Hello Ms. Williams

    I have watched State of the Black Union for a number of years on CSPAN each March. I saw people say that we need to put pressure
    on the appropriate people to get legislation enacted into law.

    I, a Jewish man of age 59. I voted for Barack Obama enthusiastically. I live in NY and do activism.

    Please read the following and if you find it good then please spread the word. The Republiklan party as I see it will still block progress even though they lost 2 big congressional elections and the Presidency.

    Thank you.


    When corporations hold back progressive legislation then we need to take political action and pressure GOP contributors into getting us the legislation that they have blocked through funding the GOP whose
    representatives and Senators block legislation. Please discuss this with your colleagues and hopefully you will get citizens to take action. The usual past actions have not worked. How about doing something different for a change that might work?

    Send the following letter by fax to Senate Republican minority leader Senator Mitch McConnell. Tell other people to visit this
    site and have these people to get other people to visit this site.

    Go to which will have the letter shown below in the text box and the fax information for Senator McConnell. Just enter your name and email in the left hand box and fill in the captcha code and then click on the button that reads send free fax now. Remove any text for the minimum
    wage issue and the other issues if you like from the prewritten letter.

    ( letter to Sen. McConnell. )


    I want the following actions taken and legislation enacted into law.

    Congress and the President must enact HR 676 single payer universal health care and set up a new prescription drug benefit in Medicare Part B covering 80% of the cost of all drugs with no extra monthly premiums, no extra yearly deductible, no means tests, no coverage gaps, and remove the means test for Medicare Part B and until that happens, I won't buy
    ANYTHING from Republican contributor Rite Aid Pharmacies.

    The President must end the war in Iraq and until that happens I will not buy any products from Republican contributor and War contractor General Electric Corporation.

    Congress and the President must enact a $10/HR MINIMUM WAGE into law and until this happens I will not go to any Republican contributor Wendy's Restaurants.

    In 2008 Brown-Forman of Kentucky, the maker of Jack Daniels Whiskey and Southern Comfort gave Mitch McConnell money for his campaign.


    Thank you.

    ( end of letter to Sen. McConnell. )

    Also have people do the following:

    Get as many people to make these phone calls.

    Call GOP contributor Rite Aid at 800 325 3737
    and tell the person to get the CEO to get congress to enact HR 676 Single payer health care and enact a new prescription drug benefit in Medicare Part B covering 80% of the cost of drugs with no extra premiums, no extra deductibles, no means tests, no coverage gaps, and remove the means test for Medicare Part B and until that happens, you won't buy ANYTHING from Rite Aid.

    Call GOP contributor and war contractor General Electric Corporation at 800 386 1215 or 203 373 2211 and tell the person who answers, to tell the GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt that you want him to get the President to end the war in Iraq and and until that happens you will not buy any GE products and that you will tell your friends about this.

    Call GOP contributor Wendy's restaurants at 800 443 7266 and tell the person in public relations that you want their CEO to get congress to enact a $10/HR MIN. WAGE into law and until this happens you will not go to a Wendy's Restaurant.

  8. I have something to say about Michael Steele. The Republiklan party set up a lawn jockey named Michael Steele and put him into the position of Chairman and placed him on the front lawn of the plantation of the Republiklan party. I sincerely doubt that Mr. Steele will do anything that the White plantation owners of the Republiklan party would not approve of. Steele has already apologized to the Oxy Moron Rush Limbaugh. Michael Steele made the absurd statement that just like Barack Obama that Steele had reached the pinnacle of power for African Americans. Excuse me but a chairman of a party appears small in comparison to a President of the United States of America. Oh and it appears very good that we now have a legitimately elected President after 2 stolen elections done in 2000 and 2004. I found the one in 2004 very striking considering that the conservative African American Ken Blackwell, who also ran for GOP chairman, had disenfranchised Democrats in Ohio so that SloboGeorge MiloseBush could squeak through with another stolen election.

    Obligatory Rush Limbaugh Joke. Why do so many republicans follow Rush Limbaugh? Because they have had a Limbaughtomy.

    Thankfully the 28 year reign of error of the Reagan Bush Bush regime has ended. I'm sorry to see that we have another looming great depression but I predict that the Republiklan party will not control any congress for 40 more years and will not have a President for 16 years.

    My mother at age 87 lived through the great depression of the 1930's and she could not even fathom that we would have another one coming.

    I would have considered that people would not give the Republiklan party the congress and the presidency given that they have ruined this country beginning wih the stock market crash of 1929 and depression of the 1930's but for millions of idiots who put Reagan and the 2 Bushes in power over the last 28 years who probably did not read history books and saw the disastrous Republiklan party and their mean spirited economic policies that should have died with Ayn Rand.

    But now the Republiklan party has 2 strikes against it with a second major stock market crash and housing crash and banking crash you would hope that with Historians ranking Bush as even worse than Herbert Hoover, that people will not put the Republiklan party in power in the congress and the Presidency for any point soon in the future and hopefully the Republiklan party will collapse and cease to exist.

  9. I like you!!! Saw you on cspan Q&A. I really like u. Look forward to your conversations.
    Peace and Love