The profile of national politics has changed dramatically over the past 8 months. These changing times has added a certain “tint” to politics, a brand new “hue” if you will. Okay, enough beating around the bush, where did all these colored people come from? There was a time that Representatives Harold Ford, JC Watts and Jesse Jackson represented the height of electoral politics for black people and the future of the race politically. There was also a light smattering of Latinos and other minority on the national political scene, most notably Richardson. Let’s not mention, Powell, Gonzalez and Condoleezza Rice. Though they had high office, neither were politicians, just bureaucrats and soldiers put in a highly politicized public service role. But now, in 2009, people of color have become the representative face of both parties! With “That One” Barack Obama and MC Michael Steele, not to mention Bobby Jindal, men of color publicly front both parties. How did we get here, and what does that mean for politics over the next 4 years?
First of all, let’s look at the two completely different things the brown person on the Democratic Party and the brown people on the Republican Party represent. Barack Obama was not anointed by his party, but ambushed his party with some fortuitous moments in which he made outstanding, and ground breaking speeches. He has a knack for playing a line right down the middle, when it comes to democratic politics, while offering a figurative and literal fresh face to politics. His stance on some real basic ideas about conversation, teamwork, and common courtesy seemed revolutionary after George W. Bush. No one saw him coming. The message of change, and the idea that America was ready for a black President was a shock to absolutely everyone until after the Iowa caucuses. Only then did his political party make a shift and start backing him wholeheartedly.
Barack was the physical manifestation of the idea that Democrats were diametrically opposed to everything George W. Bush had done in the White House. He was well spoken, a great listener, committed to surrounding himself with divergent viewpoints, and outspoken about the need to talk to allies as well as friends abroad. Barack Obama, through his own political positioning and uncanny timing, became the face of a new type of politics. No face says change better than one that is different from the previous 43 men who’ve held that job in history.
On top of that, for the first time in history his blackness was seen as a plus. To the millions of college students who had voted for him, and to the civil rights generation voters from all races, he was a culmination of where this country sees itself going. He was the answer to the question of whether or not America was a country of racists, especially since the Iraq war seemed to suggest that the U.S. couldn’t tell one brown person from another. Even the way he spoke and, dare I say it, his swagger, was distinctly black. He had what linguist and author John McWhorter calls “blacksense”, a way of speaking that’s distinctly African American yet comforting to white people (i.e. Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones). White people definitely had some, “look at me, ain’t I progressive” moments in the days leading up to the election and inauguration. They key element though, was that this was brought about from the grassroots by the actual man who won the election.
On the contrast, Michael Steele’s rise to leadership in the Republican Party has taken an almost exact opposite route. The Republican Party has recognized that they need to change directions, but it seems they are only interested in changing appearances. The main draw with Michael Steele is that he proves that the same old ideas are relevant in a post-racial, hip-hop, facebook and twitter type of world. They have not changed any basic position on taxes, foreign policy, sexual health and reproduction, welfare, gun control, or any other topic that has been part of the Republican platform for 50 years. Republicans have instead insisted that these old concepts are timeless, so much so that they can let the people of color promote them. This is a very blatant and insulting type of re-branding where the product has not changed a bit.
It’s actually disappointing, but not surprising, that the Republican Party would be so obviously race baiting with their public representation. Michael Steele has no experience winning anything of consequence politically outside of Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. His recent newspaper interview where he claimed he was going to give the Republican Party a hip-hop overhaul was like watching your uncle do the ‘running man” at the family reunion. On top of that I was personally embarrassed at how he was undressed by Rush Limbaugh and subsequently apologized. After looking back at what he said to D.L. Hughley he realized his words didn’t accurately reflect his feelings. Steele, that was soooo not hip-hop. You loose 25 hip-hop cool points, which brings you to a grand total of –65.
Jindal is undoubtedly a skilled politician; you must be to become a non-white governor in a southern state like Louisiana. He is also, obviously and unfortunately, not the greatest orator or a genuine street fighter, as his painful response to Obama’s address proved the other day. Both the style and the substance of his droning speech have proved to be lacking. Even before we found out that his horribly boring and ridiculously ill-thought-of story about him standing shoulder to shoulder with a local sheriff to fight big government in a time of crisis wasn’t true, we wondered about the political wisdom of using a Republican failure as an example of why Republicans should be given federal power again. I could imagine a room full of Republican power brokers, with single malt scotches and cigars, waiting to pat each other on the back. Their young acolyte Jindal would wow the masses and show that the G.O.P. has down south mixed with Indian flavor. I would have paid to see their real time reaction to his lackluster speech. It has not been said enough; that you shouldn’t trust a party who believes that Federal government can only fail to run the Federal Government. This gives them the ability to fail miserably and blame the institution, instead of themselves for running it. Jindal proved that no matter what color is on the banner of the Republican Party, their concepts have an extreme disconnect with reality. No paint job will make this jalopy run. No hired maniacs or mercenaries like Alan Keyes will make the world see them differently. It took Obama months of real difference and nuance in his stance as a Democrat to penetrate that party, and until the Republicans can find their own, their party will still lack any color.