Thursday, February 19, 2009

Happy Days for Michael Steele?

We at the Egg feel wince when middle-aged white people try to sound like the younger, hipper and more ethnic.  Remember Mitt Romney and "Who let the dogs out?"  It's not the pandering that bothers us, it's the tone deafness.

Anyway, you don't have to white to make a fool of yourself this way.  Consider RNC chairman Michael Steele, who is black and who sounds -- for an RNC chair, anyway -- like a decent guy.  He's Roman Catholic, and did a few years in seminary.  Goes to church regularly.  He was on the fencing team at Hopkins, which in his day (and ours) had a decent program.  His business background is big law firms, Wall Street and consulting -- so he may be ethically challenged, but at least he can pick up the tab after lunch.

But in a recent interview with the Washington Times (founded and owned by the self-proclaimed Second Coming of Christ, Sun Myung Moon), this fifty-something corporate lawyer tried to sound like something he clearly isn't.  Over and over.  

Much of the interview was dedicated to Steele's feisty insistence that he doesn't need a deputy chair, and that those who say otherwise can "stuff it." It's a faux-tough-guy remark, like Bush's "bring it on," and like that remark it makes the speaker look weak and unstatesmanlike.  

But Steele, leading a party in disarray, isn't trying to look statesmanlike.  He's trying to look interesting, to anybody at all.  Per the Times, Steele is planning a "public relations offensive" to attract younger voters, especially blacks and Hispanics, by applying the party's principles to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings.”

Points for recognizing that hip-hop is suburban music. But of course, PR is not the same as policy, and we worry when politicians seem overly invested in it. Here's how Steel characterizes his publicity campaign:

“It will be avant garde, technically,” he said. “It will come to table with things that will surprise everyone - off the hook.”

We wonder, there, whether he knows what "avant-garde" and "off the hook" actually mean. Not to mention "technically." So, apparently, did the interviewer, who asked:

Does that mean cutting-edge?

“I don't do 'cutting-edge,' “ [Steele] said. “That's what Democrats are doing. We're going beyond cutting-edge.”

Really? What, we wonder, lies beyond cutting-edge? The object to be cut perhaps, by those Democrats who are actually doing the cutting? Bottom line: Steele is probably not an idiot. But, based on these remarks, we suspect that he may be neither a deep nor a clear thinker, nor a man who should strive to sound more youthful than he is.

He sounds like Howard Cunningham, awkwardly trying to reach out to Fonzie. As readers of a certain age may recall, Howard did reach out to the Fonze, and effectively -- they even went into business together, in Season 4.  Months before the famous shark was jumped, teen rebel and aging hardware salesman shared a patent for an hydraulic trash-compactor. But Mr. C. didn't make this happen by wearing a leather jacket and snapping his fingers, affectations that would have looked ridiculous (and which, by the way, would have made for a pretty good episode). He did it by coming up with a blueprint, soliciting the kid's revisions, and then paying attention to ideas better than his own.

If Steele is serious about recruiting young black and Hispanic voters to the GOP, he should can the PR, start listening to people instead of marketing to them, and help his party come up with policies that actually stand to improve the lives of those voters and their families.  To judge from the results of the last election, not to mention the last eight years, Republicans are a long way from doing that.

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