Saturday, January 31, 2009

Of Chicken Dances and bully pulpits

Well, the Republicans have finally found something to cheer about so who can blame them for doing the Chicken Dance through the weekend?  I probably should explain right here that the Chicken Dance is a fun-filled maneuver that I discovered 30 years ago in Rudesheim, Germany, in which the participants flap their elbows, wing-like, against their bodies to the loud cries of an oompah band.  The song-and-dance thing  borders on a joyful patriotic commitment to ethnic expression in some quarters to this day. 

Back to the celebrating  Republicans.  Their national committee chose a new leader, Michael Steele, a very conservative African-American that in an instant expanded its exploratory reach  for party diversity by a grand total of one. For a party that boasts of no blacks in the House or Senate and a single Jew in the House of Representatives, Steele faces a daunting task.  After all, the party has been talking about expanding its base for as long as anyone can remember but  has always  ended up with a bunch of oil men, corporate executives and Wall Streeters to underwrite the political class for tax  favors granted.    

But things will be different from now on, says Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland whose first fighting words on his Olympian tablet were a threat to "knock over" anyone who would obstruct his agenda.  Among the huzzahs were the lofty promise of former Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett, who has been talking about expanding the base since Lincoln's famous address.  Bennett  impressed upon me in an interview years ago that the party was turning the corner to be more inclusive.   In response to Steele, Bennett told a Plain Dealer reporter: "You have a great spokesman for the party.  You have an outstanding leader.  I think that it will certainly benefit the party as we move forward."   Kevin DeWine, the new Ohio GOP chairman, suggested Steele's job would certainly complement the party's grassroots  "hunger  for change."  (But after all these years of  dormant diversity, might we not wonder as John McCain loved to ask,  is it really "change we can believe in"?  

From what I have read, Steele is quite capable of adapting to whatever challenges that confront the national chairman when the  Oval Office incumbent, who also happens to be an African- American, is running quite high in popular opinion.  Call it situation ethics, but I've read that Steele has even campaigned  for the U.S Senate with an ad hoc title:  His literature referred to him as a Democrat (in Democratic precincts, of course) , even though he was listed as a Republican on the Maryland ballot.  Nice try, but he lost anyway.

And although he has told black audiences of his pride that Obama was elected, on other less diverse public occasions he referred to Obama as nothing more than a "media creation."  Somehow, he seems right for the job.  

So now , should we not pause to share a moment of silence in respect to Ohio's very own Ken Blackwell who all but claimed victory with the support of so many Conservative Christian groups (as he did when he ran for governor in Ohio).  They obviously were ignored in the balloting for the RNC chair. He finished dead last on the first ballot. 

But a warning to everybody else:  unless you flap your elbows to the beat of the oompah band, look out for the new bully on the block.  He won't  hesitate to knock you over.  

UPDATE: Steele told Fox News today that the Republican future lies in returning to Newt Gingrich's Contract for/on/with America of 1994. Honest.  I'm not clever enough to make something like this up.  But it does mean that Steele has found a tailor-made rostrum at Fox.  

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