With the election of Michael Steele as Chairman of the RNC the Republican Party invites comment on its handling of the race issue in American politics. Unfortunately, the timing and circumstances of the selection of the GOP's first black American national chairman highlight the party's pathetic mimicry of the Democrats, and its betrayal of professed principles in this area, as in every other.
The Republicans professed to be the party that affirmed the common identity of all Americans. While the Democrats promoted race-based approaches, they claimed to uphold Martin Luther King's dream that people should be treated with respect for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. They even sought to distance themselves from the very concept of race, choosing instead to refer to "Heritage groups", as if they understood and accepted the insight that we will never get beyond racism until we have rejected the inhuman idea of grouping people according to physical characteristics rather than common heritage, history and shared moral ideas.
In practice, however, the party's treatment of black Americans has been entirely driven by race-based political calculation and expediency, and the assumption that the black vote is forever beyond its grasp. Black Republicans have been mainly valued for their usefulness as political ornaments and votive offerings, which come in handy when needed to project a reassuring image of "diversity". This means, of course, that when the GOP establishment looks at a black American, all they see is race, and even that only in terms of crassly political considerations. Thus it happens that they hustle up the first black American chairman of the national GOP in predictable response to the fad of frenzied adulation surrounding Barack Obama, the first "black" to occupy the White House.
If they were at all serious about their professed principles, the Republicans would have rejected the notion that Obama represents or has anything to do with the Black American "heritage group", since he does not share, or even reflect in his background and views, the heritage that defines it. Rather than rushing to match one black skin with another, they would have looked for someone who represents the common heritage of all Americans, defined in the moral and historical terms that really constitute a basis for human community. In this respect, the first priority would have been to put forward a Party spokesman who ably and unmistakably articulates the principles that define the American heritage- the ones succinctly summarized in the words of the Declaration of Independence, that affirm that "all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…" beginning with the right to life.
To be sure, in certain quarters GOP propagandists have been at pains to tout Michael Steele's purportedly "pro-life" identity. Unfortunately, the audiences specially targeted for this emphasis reveal the calculations of political expediency that motivate it. The Party seeks desperately to shore up its decrepit credibility with sincerely pro-life voters, many of whom saw through the lie that ascribed pro-life convictions to the Party's foredoomed 2008 Presidential nominee, John McCain. In this regard, however, the gesture of Steele's selection to be Party chair seems equally foredoomed. Consider this exchange (now in circulation around the internet) from an interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press, October 28, 2006.
MR. RUSSERT: ...Mr. Steele, if you're United States Senator, would you vote for a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion?
LT. GOV. STEELE: I don't — vote for a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion? I think we'd have to have that get to the Supreme Court, wouldn't we? I haven't seen that bill proposed. I don't think...
MR. RUSSERT: That's been introduced in the Senate.
LT. GOV. STEELE: I don't think anyone's going to propose that this day.
MR. RUSSERT: So you wouldn't do that?
LT. GOV. STEELE: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Would, would you encourage — would you hope the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade?
LT. GOV. STEELE: I think that that's a matter that's going to rightly belong to the courts to decide ultimately whether or not that, that issue should be addressed. The, the Court has taken a position, which I agree, stare decisis, which means that the law is as it is and, and so this is a matter that's ultimately going to be adjudicated at the states. We're seeing that. The states are beginning to decide for themselves on, on this and a host of other issues. And the Supreme Court would ultimately decide that.
MR. RUSSERT: But you hope that the Court keeps Roe v. Wade in place?
LT. GOV. STEELE: I think the Court will evaluate the law as society progresses, as the Court is supposed to do.
MR. RUSSERT: But what's your position? Do you want them to sustain it or overturn it?
LT. GOV. STEELE: Well, I think, I think, I think Roe vs. Wade, Roe vs. Wade is a, is a matter that should've been left to the states to decide, ultimately. But it, it is where it is today, and the courts will ultimately decide whether or not this, this gets addressed by the states, goes back to the states in some form or they overturn it outright.
MR. RUSSERT: Is is your desire to keep it in place?
LT. GOV. STEELE: My desire is that we follow what stare decisis is at this point, yes.
It's hard to decide which is more impressive, Steele's grasp of the details of the most important items on the pro-life agenda, or the depth and firmness of his convictions in support of them. Clearly Steele is the leader the Republicans need to inspire and motivate pro-life voters: someone courageously ready to hold his breath until the Supreme Court hands the issue back to the states for decision. Surely that kind of fortitude harkens back to the days when the Republican Party grasped the nettle of the slavery issue. It recalls to mind Lincoln's firm rejection of his opponent Stephen Douglas's stance that he didn't care whether slavery was voted up or voted down, so long as it was decided by "popular sovereignty" at the state level. Of course Douglass was not a Republican, so Michael Steele must be...
Perhaps the RNC is auditioning for a walk-on in an episode of "Psych" (the detective spoof on the USA Network.) It certainly requires psychic abilities to decipher the clues they followed to find Michael Steele guilty of pro-life convictions. Far from showing, or even faintly suggesting, that the GOP means to return to its principled roots, the RNC's choice is of a piece with the pattern of cynical maneuvering and barely disguised deception that characterized the GOP's 2008 Presidential campaign. Anyone who truly seeks to support the things the Republicans used to stand for should find another home. The problem is that the two-party system has no such home on the market and is in any case too morally bankrupt to finance the purchase. Like the early homesteaders who developed America in the first place, those who want a political home for America's principles will have to build it anew. I suggest a good place to start: http://aipnews.com/.