Michael Steele has committed another gaffe, as Michel Kinsley would define it. On April 20 the Republican National Committee chairman told students at DePaul University in Chicago:
We have lost sight of the historic, integral link between the party and African-Americans. This party was co-founded by blacks, among them Frederick Douglass. The Republican Party had a hand in forming the NAACP, and yet we have mistreated that relationship. People don't walk away from parties, Their parties walk away from them.
For the last 40-plus years we had a 'Southern Strategy' that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South. Well, guess what happened in 1992, folks, 'Bubba' went back home to the Democratic Party and voted for Bill Clinton.
Steele's comments hold some merit coming from a political scientist or historian. In "Steele Cage," printed in the February 4 issue of The New Republic, Jonathan Chait noted the GOP's failure "to acknowledge the link between segregation and conservative ideology." Though conceding "these facts don't make conservatism racist or wrong," Chait explained
white Southern conservatives defected to the GOP precisely because the Democratic Party turned against Jim Crow. Strom Thurmond joined the party in 1964, and never renounced his openly racist past. Lott continued into the 1990s to build open alliances with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a successor to the White Citizens’ Councils that fought integration. National Review opposed the Civil Rights Act and endorsed white supremacy.
Steele, then, has again made Republicans shake their head and probably, understandably, boil with anger as their chairman has suggested a legitimate reason for blacks to back Democrats, and done so without the usual (disingenuous) Republican charge that Democrats are taking African-Americans for granted. Still, he hasn't been fired- voted out- and ultimately there is only one reason, as Steele hinted at in an interview in November with Roland Martin:
MARTIN: But your candidates got to talk to them. One of the criticisms I've always had is Republicans -- white Republicans -- have been scared of black folks.
STEELE: You're absolutely right. I mean I've been in the room and they've been scared of me....
Republicans have a big problem- a spokesman who damages the party and the image it's intending to foster. But he's a spokesman who thoroughly intimidates them.
In his piece, Chait remarked also that "it feels ridiculous to have to point out this history." It does feel ridiculous. But thanks to Michael Steele's candor, it shouldn't any longer be necessary.
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