Steele, Diversity, and the GOP

| Mon Feb. 2, 2009 12:45 PM EST

I like Ta-Nehisi's thoughts on Michael Steele. Yes, Steele is a token pick who will fail to bring African-Americans into the GOP fold. And yes, Steele succeeds in the GOP despite his record of failures because the Republican Party finds it useful to have a black man around now and again. But the GOP is taking its first baby steps toward diversity and inclusion, and one can't expect those baby steps to be perfect; it requires a couple generations of incubating minority talent before you get an Obama. Anyway, here are Ta-Nehisi's comments:

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But in the fight for inclusion, like most fights, your persistence is more important than your fuck-ups. The result of decades of persistent Democratic efforts towards inclusion yielded a primary featuring a white woman and black man, both of whom were talented heavyweight politicians--the anti-Ferraros, if you will. Because the GOP, has spent much of the immediate past, celebrating its own homogeneity is way way behind.

Think about it like this whereas Democrats have several potential African-American stars on the horizon--people who can actually go out, compete and win--Michael Steele essentially owes his career to appointments. That's not a dis--Steele's electoral problems have less to do with his own political gifts, than they have to do with the relationship between his party and minorities. As a black man running in a state like Maryland, you could be the next, well, Barack Obama. But if you're running under the banner of a party that your original constituency thinks hates them, you will not win.

I think Steele has a Sarah Palin problem. Remember the silly math that had Palin giving Obama fits for the votes of women? Ultimately, that line of attack fizzled because, I'd argue, a lot of women found Palin embarrassing--an obvious token who wasn't ready for prime-time. I think Steele is twice the politician that Sarah Palin is. But the question remains--How does he get black folks to look at him as more than a token? And how does he get that magic to extend itself to the broader party? Mel Martinez failed at doing exactly that for Latinos. Will Steele be any better?

I don't think Steele gets black folks to vote Republican. But he makes the next black Republican a little more comfortable pursuing a career in the GOP. And maybe in 10 years we'll see a black Republican who can win in his/her own right (instead of failing up, as Steele seems to have done) and who attracts black votes in the process. Diversification starts with Steele and ends with superstars.