Apparently, the RNC isn’t as shortsighted as I thought. This afternoon former Maryland Lt. Gov Michael Steele was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee (and as such, official leader of the Republican Party) after several rounds of voting. This is doubly significant: not only is Steele the first African-American to hold the position, but we are now at a moment where both of the nation’s major parties are led by an African-American. It’s pretty remarkable.
That said, if Republicans believe that this now means that African-Americans are going to stumble over themselves to vote for the GOP, then they’re in for a distinctly unpleasant surprise. Decades of relying on the Southern Strategy and demonizing African-Americans have left the GOP with very little – if any – credibility in the black community. Steele has his work more than cut out for him. And not just on the outreach front; the GOP is far behind the Democratic Party in adopting internet technologies, and using them effectively. In addition to expanding the GOP’s base to minorities, Steele has to begin the long, difficult task of transforming the GOP into a party that can compete in the 21st century. The Republican Party lost a lot of support in suburbs and among young professionals, largely because the party is (correctly) perceived as being hostile to science, and technological change. If the GOP wants to be a legitimate competitor – in places like Virginia, as well as New York or Massachusetts – then it’s going to have follow the Democrats’ lead, and embrace the pursuit of science as part of its platform.
Of course, none of this will be easy. The Sarah Palin, anti-intellectual, almost proto-fascist wing of the party is worryingly strong, and if the recent vote on the stimulus package is any indication, Republicans are more than willing to take a hard right, categorically oppositional stance. After all, it satisfies the base. And as long as it does, Steele’s job will be incredibly – incredibly – difficult. Honestly, I kind of feel sorry for the guy.
Here – if you’re interested – is his acceptance speech: