Michael Steele Plays That Race Card


Imagine if President Barack Obama hit the podium one day and griped, “My critics are tougher on me because I’m a black man.” Ka-booomb! We’d have the mother of all-about-race political-media circuses. TV pundits would explode. Limbaugh and Beck would fly into higher orbits of outraged craziness. Editorial pages would be crammed with reax. The nation would go nuts.

GOP leader Michael Steele said essentially the same thing on Monday about himself, but it’s unlikely that he’ll detonate such a nuclear daisy chain—because so many people already expect him to make dumb remarks.

On Good Morning America, Steele had this exchange with host George Stephanopoulos: 

STEPHANOPOULOS: As an African American, do you have a slimmer margin for error than another chairman would?

STEELE: The honest answer is: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why is that?

STEELE: It just is. Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. We all — a lot of folks do. I mean, it’s a different role for me to play and others to play. And that’s just the reality of it. But you take that as part of the nature of it….My view of politics is much more grassroots-oriented. It’s not old-boy-network-oriented. And so I tend to come at it a little bit stronger, a little bit more streetwise, if you will. That’s rubbed some feathers the wrong way.

Though Steele has bumbled much as GOP chieftain, he says his precarious position there is partly due to the color of his skin. Whatever happened to the Republican obsession with race-blind performance? And it may well be that if a white guy had pulled the same boneheaded moves as Steele, he’d be out by now. In any event, Steele is using race as a shield against the growing criticism targeting him. Fortunately, he doesn’t have the standing—or seriousness—to trigger a nationwide over-reaction.

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  • David Corn

    David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief and an on-air analyst for MSNBC. He is the co-author (with Michael Isikoff) of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, Showdown, Hubris (with Isikoff), and The Lies of George W. Bush, as well as the e-book, 47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video that Rocked the 2012 Election. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook.