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Race Thu Apr 22 2010

Michael Steele: Selling Minorities Real Estate in Lake Michigan

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele makes Joe Biden look gaffe proof. It seems like every time you turn around on CNN, or load up Huffington Post, Steele is explaining how the Republican Party is the party of one-armed-midgets, Republicans fought to outlaw slavery in the Bill of Rights (it was actually the 13th amendment, not the first 10), and apologizing to Rush Limbaugh.

Which is why I went to the Chairman's appearance at DePaul University. I appreciate good stand up comedy.

Steele's appearance was sponsored by the campus Republicans and the DePaul Cultural Center. An odd combination considering that the Conservative Alliance had once sponsored an Affirmative Action Bake Sale targeting the cultural center and organized pickets against the speakers the Cultural Center invited such as Ward Churchill.

Steele is the first Black person to be the national chairman of the RNC and was to speak on Conservatisms appeal to minority communities. Instead he talked about its lack of an appeal.

When asked , "Why should Blacks vote Republican?" Steele responded without hesitation, "You really don't have a reason to, to be honest. We really haven't really done a good job of giving them a reason to... We have failed miserably in that regard. We have lost sight of the historic integral link between the party and African Americans."

But liberals looking to mock Steele's response should pay attention to the context of the statement. Steele explained that part of what he had been trying to do as RNC chairman was to "turn the elephant." He complained that the Republican Party had used a Southern strategy that alienated minority voters and that he hoped to "reestablish [the Republican Party's] relationship with African Americans."

Steele said that the goal of the civil rights movement has changed. "The fight to get a seat at the lunch counter is done. Your fight now is to own the diner... ownership is what will define your generation. I'm not talking about 'oh I got my own a house.' I'm talking about legacy wealth. I'm talking about stuff that the Vanderbilt's and the Rockefeller's and the Kennedy's did. That is now affordable to you... but your going to have to fight for it."

Steele described ways he had attempted to reach out to blacks by speaking at Black churches, and working with minority business groups. Steele even explained his own experience being denied an interview for a job once they realized that he was black. He encouraged Republicans to reach out to minority voters, despite the disconnect between the two. "You got a big hurdle. 1.) They don't trust you. 2.) They may not like you. 3.) You've got something to offer. 4.) Put it on the table."

Is this the strategy to win the support of minority voters? Is Steele the person to sell the Republican Party to anyone, let alone a group of people who have been alienated from the GOP?

Steele seemed to have trouble grasping what inequality in the present era means. He attempted to say that political interests lead to inequality. "You have an interest, I have an interest... it matters whose interests are bing served, how why and when." Which sort of makes sense. Certainly Wall Street CEO's have a different interest than a single mother living in Austin or Pilsen. Wall Street CEO's are also more likely to have their interest served as well. I don't think Steele meant it that way though.

Steele agreed that he measured equality in a relative sense rather than an absolute sense. "Some people are comfortable with the level of equality that they have, I've just never been one of those people. You may be..... 'I got the job, I got this, I'm good.'" I think Steele meant to say material wealth instead of equality. It would make more sense if Steele was talking about wealth, but he kept saying equality.

What was even more striking was Steele's boring policy wonk answer to a woman who asked about health care. The woman asked, "I have had 2 heart surgeries totaling 250 grand. I have lost my health insurance, and my parents had to move to smaller house. Since you opposed Obama's health care plan, what would you propose?"

Steele didn't display a single empathetic emotion. He did not tell the woman that he hoped she was well, or that he was sorry for her troubles. Instead Steele complained about lawyers who sue malpracticing hospitals and insurance companies. "I don't know how you address health care without addressing tort reform. I don't know how you address health care without addressing the underlying costs to it."

Steele may be reaching out to minorities, but the policies he proposes would negatively impact those same communities. Steele is the consummate snake oil salesman. He wants to encourage minorities becoming millionaires, but wants to cut the welfare programs that people rely on. Steele says he wants to reduce health care costs, but doesn't even lay out a plan for minorities to afford health care. Steele proposes school vouchers which would take even more resources away from the schools that need them.

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