Bill Haber/FR170136 AP
Former Congressman J.C. Watts addresses the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Thursday, April 8, 2010.
In case you missed it, NPR's Michel Martin, host of Tell Me More, interviewed J.C. Watts, the former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, in a conversation that aired Monday.
Watts, for a while during the late 1990s and early 2000s, was the only black Republican in the House and a member of House leadership.
Michel asked Watts what he made of the controversy over Michael Steele, he chair of the Republican National Committee.
Watts, now in the private sector, didn't say directly that he thought race was behind much of the criticism Steele is getting. But that certainly was the upshot of his comments.
The relevant excerpt:
MICHEL: ... Do you think that Michael Steele has been an effective leader for the Republican Party? I mean he's been a guest on this program and he says that he thinks part of the reason that people are criticizing him is that he's put a lot more emphasis on grassroots outreach and that that is not always appreciated.
Mr. WATTS: Well, Michel, to answer your question, Michael's had a very stormy relationship as RNC chairman with many in the Republican establishment. I scratch my head when you consider from the outset what many were being critical of him on. If you recall, he wrote a book, and they were critical saying he shouldn't have written a book and, you know, the RNC chairman needs to be focused on growing the party and grassroots and raising money.
Michel, I can understand that argument, but other chairs wrote books. They said, "Oh, he's taken private planes; he's not flying commercial." But what's the big deal? Other chairs took private planes. They said he's making outside income. Other chairs had outside income. So I thought those arguments were bogus arguments.
Now, I think that Chairman Steele, as we've discussed, I think he's given those who are his enemies, and I don't think they're just his critics, I think they've been his enemies, he's given them plenty of ammunition to come after him. But, you know, I think when you look at the big picture, he's won elections. I think the grassroots would say that it's probably the first time in some time they've gotten the kind of love that Michael Steele has shown to them. So, while you can probably find some things to be critical of, I think the things that he has done - the good things that he has done far outweighed the things that he should not have done.