Steele and the Republican Party – a Match Made in PR Heaven

steeleSome people are surprised by the Republican Party’s choice of an African American as national chairman. The Republican Party traditionally opposes programs that might benefit minorities, and – at least in some parts of the country, such as Central Florida where I happen to live – white people traditionally vote Republican, while minorities almost unanimously support the Democrats. In last year’s presidential election, Republican John McCain got single-digit support nationwide from African-American voters.

So why on earth would the Republicans pick a black man as their chairman? Have they had a change of heart? Will black voters now flock to their side? Will white voters in the south abandon their age-old racism? Of course not. But electing Michael Steele (photo above) was smart public relations; it signals a new (if ersatz) tone of diversity and inclusiveness. And increasingly the Republican Party is all about PR. Everything Republicans do these days is done for show. And Steele gives them a bit of showbiz panache; his sister Monica was married to heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson (remember him?). But the “cool” is only skin-deep. At heart he is the same old conservative with the same worn out ideas that plunged the global economy into chaos.

In his first weekly radio address, the new Republican Party chairman railed against the stimulus package that nearly every reputable economist on the face of the earth has been urging the American government to implement. His answer to the looming depression? Why, more tax breaks, of course. In his financial position, how could he understand that if you are out of a job, the last thing you need is a tax break? After all, you don’t have any income to tax, do you? Duh! How uncool is that?

But Steele did not grow up “black in America.” He was adopted by a middle class couple who lived in an integrated neighborhood. They gave him a good home and a good education. And he enjoyed many of the privileges that white society supposedly confers. A devout Roman Catholic (who studied to become a priest), he attended a private high school in Washington, D.C. Not only did he participate in the Glee Club, the National Honor Society and many of the school’s drama productions, but also during his senior year, he was elected student council president. But I guess he had to be “different”; his adoptive parents were Democrats so he decided to become a Republican.

You would think the 51-year-old lawyer turned politician should have every reason to be grateful for the sacrifices of civil rights pioneers who paved the way for his privileged life. But apparently, he doesn’t see it that way. He is an unabashed champion of the upper dog. His loyalty is to the status quo, and if the status quo means a pro-white, pro-rich government, then so be it.

Trying to look on the bright side, you might interpret Steele’s election as a sign that America has grown beyond black-and-white politics, that we really are entering a post-racial age. But, sadly, I don’t think so. Take a look at the most recent unemployment figures: The overall rate is 7.6 percent, the rate for whites is 6.9 percent, the rate for Hispanics is 9.7 percent, and the rate for African Americans is a whopping 12.6 percent. That’s hardly “post-racial.”

No, Steele’s election is just another PR trick – more “spin” from those cunning Republicans. With nothing of substance to offer, they have become adept at spinning lead into fool’s gold.