Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Race and the GOP

I have often called out conservatives for their cynical use of race in their own politics. There is a kind of schizophrenia within the supposedly "color-blind" conservative approach to race where conservatives insist on demonstrating how "color-blind" they are by pointing to all the people of color that have succeeded in the GOP because of their merits. And they tend to highlight and applaud such people of color within the conservative movement. One case in point is Thomas Sowell, the black conservative economist. Another case in point is Michael Steele, the chairman of the RNC. But the problem is that in their earnestness to show how "color-blind" they are by having people of color in positions of power and authority, they paint themselves into the box of not being able to respond to folks like Michael Steele and Thomas Sowell without being sensitive to their race.

For instance, whenever a black liberal intellectual speaks out on a particular social issue, whether involving race or not, conservatives often tend to try to find a black conservative intellectual to face off against this black liberal intellectual. And whenever a black conservative leader, like Michael Steele, faces complaint and scandal for his performance, conservatives are just as inclined to soften their criticism for fear of being called out as racially insensitive. And it doesn't help when Michael Steele himself acknowledges that his race gives him "slimmer margins" of performance expectations among his own ideological brethren. Race matters. It just does. And the more conservatives try to pretend that it doesn't, the more they actually make it so.

Joshua Green captures the conundrum of the race problem for the GOP by referencing the kid-glove treatment Michael Steele is getting. As Green notes:

It's impossible to imagine his [Steele's] magisterial display of buffoonery going unpunished in almost any circumstance--but it is going unpunished, and Steele appears to be in no danger of losing his job. Far from being a problem, his race is all that's standing between Steele and a pink slip.

The GOP, on the other hand, does have a race problem. It won't fire Michael Steele because he is black. ...

It's remarkable that Republicans, after a generation of complaining about racial quotas and political correctness, seem paralyzed by Steele's race. They appear to have internalized the very "liberal mindset" they once warned against. Steele presents a perfect opportunity for them to leave race aside and make a judgment strictly on merit. And they're flinching.
And this is, in a nutshell, what I mean when I refer the conservative schizophrenia regarding race.

1 comment:

eric said...

Your post would make a lot of sense... if Steele's Hispanic predececessor had not gotten the Chairmanship pulled out from under him for being to far to the left of the party on immigration. According to your ideas about conservative hang-ups with race, there shouldn't have been the political will to get rid of Mel Martinez. Or is it only black people you think conservatives are "schizophrenic" about? And here's a question for you: If Steele is eventually forced to resign the position (which is how RNC Chairs are usually deposed, they don't get fired), or if he loses his re-election bid next January (assuming he wants to run again) will you be willing to say you were wrong about conservatives and race in this instance?

There are a ton of conservatives calling for Steele's resignation right now, and I have yet to hear the argument from anyone that "We can't get rid of him because he's black!". Steele has been a controversial Chairman in his first year, but Republicans already see 2010 as a likely BIG win Congressionally, and they are going to be hesitant to shake up the party leadership just a few months before those elections happen (and rightly so). Now you can choose to ignore that and say they are only keeping him around because of his race, but if you want your argument taken seriously then the burden is on you to prove it, and screaming "that's just the way those rotten conservatives think!" is not proof.

Ultimately Steele's controversy won't do as much to help or harm him as his ability to raise money for candidates... which I predict will be fairly poor, and likely lead to his downfall as Chariman. There is a concerted effort among conservatives right now to NOT give money to the party, but only to individual candidates whom you personally support, because conservatives still by and large don't trust the GOP leadership to make important decisions... and that is ultimately and unwaveringly Steele's biggest problem, not his race.