NPR logo Steele Chairs RNC; Don't Call it Affirmative Action

Steele Chairs RNC; Don't Call it Affirmative Action

Republicans can be a funny bunch. They're against affirmative action, but they always seem to be able to find people of color to fill a slot just when they're most needed.

After Thurgood Marshall stepped down from the Supreme Court, President Bush (the first) was luckily able to find Clarence Thomas right there at the top of the waiting list to replace him. When Barack Obama looked like he would sail into his Senate seat in 2004, Republicans airlifted in Alan Keyes to run against him.

And now that the nation overwhelmingly voted Obama into the White House, the Republican National Committee has elected its first black American — Michael Steele — as its chairman.

The RNC held what was perhaps its least diverse national convention ever in 2008. The knee-jerk reaction to Steele's election might be to label the move as a desperate affirmative action-type response to Obama, the shifting demographics of America and, as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says, the potential that Republicans will become nothing but a regional party.


Steele took the chair only after six hours and six different ballots, and he fairly squeaked by in a 91-77 vote. Squeaked by, it should be noted, a runner-up — Katon Dawson — who until recently belonged to a whites-only country club.

Where do you find a whites-only club in 2009? That isn't the GOP, that is. (For the record, it's the Forest Lake Country Club in Columbia, S.C.)

To be fair, Steele is probably one of the most centrist GOPers the GOP could find to run their show. The Economist sums up his resume this way: "Handsome, moderate, the grandson of a sharecropper and the only candidate who doesn't own a gun, he looks good on television even to non-Republicans."

He'll need to.

As a reminder, this historic event took place after potential RNC chair candidate Chip Saltsman brightened everybody's holidays by sending out CD stocking stuffers that included the not-at-all-offensive ditty "Barack the Magic Negro."

Good luck to Mr. Steele in rehabbing the GOP's image.