Friday, January 30, 2009

The Big Picture: Surprising Thoughts on a Surprising Decision

As a liberal Democrat, I am very annoyed by the victory of Michael Steele for the reasons the Strike articulated - he is a very different, compelling new face for the party. He is the best communicator and the most positive (and least angry-sounding) of all their candidates, and of course his race alone will be a positive for Republicans - not so much with blacks, but with whites who may want to vote Republican but feel uncomfortable supporting a blatantly exclusive party. I was really hoping that the Republicans would confirm our worst stereotype of them by choosing Katon Dawson, an elite white man from first-to-secede, Confederate-flag-waving South Carolina who long belonged to an all-white country club and declared that he would be our first black President's "worst nightmare". 

But after expressing my partisan irritation, I found myself surprisingly proud that Steele was elected by conservative Republicans. To be sure, it is a textbook case of tokenism, of putting a diverse face on a still almost all-white party. A black titular head does not in any way make up for decades of driving racial wedges and implementing policies that punish blacks. BUT, it is a pretty stunning advance for the country that even such a conservative group as the RNC would vote to have a black man as their leader. As earth-shattering as Obama's victory was, he still lost the white vote. Today, the majority of white conservative Republican committeemembers voted for a black man. Even this conservative group is not overtly racist. If our goal is to move the entire nation in a more progressive direction, it's a significant step for the conservative element of the country to move from advocating white supremacy to voting for the supremacy of a black man in their party.  The heads of both political parties in the United States are black. Forget all the "yeah, but"s for a second, and consider THAT.

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