GOP Chairman Michael Steele seems to be trying too hard to be hip. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Freshly minted Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele gave an interview with the Washington Times in which he detailed his plans for making the GOP relevant again. Says Steele:
We need messengers to really capture that region -- young, Hispanic, black, a cross section ... We want to convey that the modern-day GOP looks like the conservative party that stands on principles. But we want to apply them to urban-surburban hip-hop settings.
Hip-hop. Really? That's Chairman Steele's reductive take on people of color? That unless "principles" are framed in rhyme and break beats we will have no interest in them?
Steele's view seems oddly contrary to those people of color who are in fact ascending (or have ascended) in politics. Barack Obama's resonance with the populace was hardly based on any hip-hop cred. The same could be said for Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, and Harold Ford Jr., the former congressman who sought a Senate seat in Tennessee. They campaigned on issues, rather than disguising a dearth of ideas with faux "urban-suburban" hippness.
Yet Steele's entire interview with the Times is laced with an odd argot. His new PR campaign is going to be "off the hook." Steele "don't do 'cutting-edge.' " He does "beyond cutting-edge." His critics can "stuff it" ... ya dig? Rather than a politician with fresh ideas, he sounds more like somebody's uncle trying to be hip while playing some blacktop hoops with 16-year-olds.
Chairman Steele would do well to take a page from the playbook of George W. Bush. Bush, amazingly, was able to increase his share of the black vote from about 8 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2004. Although slight, this uptick was driven by Bush's flogging of issues of faith. Unfortunately, the primary "issue of faith" was a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. While I don't advocate the demonization of one group to get votes from another, blacks do form a disproportionately large block of voters who regularly attend church. It would be more correct and probably more effective for Steele to recruit potential GOP-ers from the pews than by going "beyond cutting edge."
Whatever that may be.