These days, black seems to go with everything.
To those who get most of their information about African Americans from TV and talk radio, this newest version of us - smart, articulate, attractive, and highly skilled at marshalling resources and attracting political support - must seem like an overnight sensation, a sudden invasion of the highest levels of American political power.
Michael Steele's ascension to the head of the Republican National Committee is a bigger watershed moment in some ways than Barack Obama's rise to the White House. Even if it is window dressing, as many suspect, and some Republicans already freely admit, I would imagine shock waves are being felt around the country, especially after Colin Powell's famous interview on Meet The Press last year in which he took Republican leadership to task after endorsing Barack Obama for president.
"Will Steele be another Powell?" is certain to be on the minds of many of the party faithful this weekend.
I talked to my father earlier today about the whole thing. He's been a Republican for over 30 years. A lot of my friends ask me how I square my own political views with his. The answer is, I don't have to. We actually don't talk about politics all the time, but when we do, a lot of our discourse revolves around the philosophical underpinnings of various political stances rather than the tit-for-tat, "party versus party" type of heated rhetoric you see so much on political gabfest shows.
Anyway, since he was on the phone, I asked him about Michael Steele. He didn't immediately address Steele, starting instead with Katon Dawson, Steele's main opponent, who is now famous for having held a membership until last year in a white's only country club. My father, who is normally a big booster of all things relating to our home state of South Carolina, gave a guarded assessment of Dawson. "If Katon had gotten elected, he wouldn't have been able to be very effective because of the baggage he would bring in with him."
So I pressed him about Steele again.
"It took him six votes!" he said, as if Steele's victory had been a struggle, rather than the triumph the media has proclaimed it to be.
"But he won," I said.
We talked a bit longer. My father wondered how much that a need to pander to the nation's new fascination with black politicians had to do with this outcome. "If he doesn’t go in their trying to take over right away, he might have a chance to do something," my father said, although the tone in his voice was wary.
We didn't get a chance to talk about the party's dynamics, and how this was going to interface with the Rush Limbaugh end of the GOP. Internet blogs are already beginning to call Steele Limbaugh's assistant. It remains to be seen whether Limbaugh is willing to sacrifice the allegiance of his radio audience by attempting to push for a more inclusive party, which is certain to cost him many of his staunch "us versus them" listeners.
Ron Brown was in the same position Steele was when he was the first African American to run the DNC – the Democrats were in disarray, and the Reagan Republicans were steamrolling everything in site. Whether or not Republican operatives can be as open to working with Steele as the Democrats were when they finally warmed up to Brown remains to be seen.
If Steele is going to suit up as the GOP's "anti-Obama", then they are going to have to give him the tools to work with, and get out of the way. This was a tall order for the Democrats back in the 80's, and it is an even taller order for the Republicans today. The faith of many of the party faithful is about to be tested in ways they would never have imagined a year ago.
Are politics the new black?
Maybe that will be the case when we get to the point when there are viable, competitive African Americans who campaign for senator, governor, and even president under the GOP banner the way the Democrats have finally begun to do it.