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Michael Steele's problem isn't race -- it's pride

Michael Steele speaks at Harvard University on Feb. 3.
Michael Steele speaks at Harvard University on Feb. 3. (Steven Senne/associated Press)

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By Kathleen Parker
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When you're Michael Steele, there's no waking up and thinking: Ahhhh, at least the worst is over.

Whatever the week, Monday is the start of another very bad one. No exception to the trend, this week began dramatically.

First, Steele's chief of staff, Ken McKay, resigned in another Republican National Committee stab (cue soundtrack from "Psycho") at damage control in the wake of profligate spending and that whole bondage-stripper thing.

Next, Steele's longtime political consulting firm, On Message, severed ties with the RNC head. His relentless off-messaging apparently was hurting the company's brand. Nothing personal, of course. High regard and all that. "We wish him well," said consultant Curt Anderson, as he lowered himself into the Titanic's last lifeboat.

And that was the good part of the week. Still to come was reaction to the latest on the list of "Things Michael Steele Shouldn't Have Said": It's about race.

Appearing recently on ABC's "Good Morning America," Steele told George Stephanopoulos that being African American has magnified his travails. Stephanopoulos had asked Steele whether his race gave him a "slimmer margin for error."

"The honest answer is yes," said Steele. "It just is. Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. We all -- a lot of folks do. It's a different role for me to play and others to play, and that's just the reality of it."

Except that African American Republicans aren't buying it. For starters, Steele was elected by the predominantly white party. After months of unforced errors, he can't now turn around and charge his party with racism. Actually, racism would mean expecting less from an African American than from a white counterpart.

If you can't play the race card with your own race, you might be in a heap of denial. As Juliette Ochieng wrote in a blog item that was picked up by BookerRising.net, the black, moderate-conservative news site:

"Mr. Steele's margin for error is smaller than it was when he first became RNC chair due entirely to the fact that he has made so many errors and due to the fact that he seems incapable of learning from them."

It's not clear who Steele thinks his audience is when he deals the race card. Meanwhile, black Republicans have their own complaints about Steele, principally that the RNC leader has failed to support African American candidates.

One of the more outspoken among these is Jean Howard-Hill, a political science professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga who is also a lawyer and Republican activist. And, some might say . . . a troublemaker?


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