All this week, and all the next, The Black Snob is taking a look at the views of black conservatives on Barack Obama. We’re examining who likes him, who doesn’t. Who will vote for him and who won’t. So far we’ve looked at the views of Amy Holmes, Condoleezza Rice, Alan Keyes, Colin Powell, Armstrong Williams and more.
Republican Michael Steele was at one point the highest ranking black official in the United States as Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. That was before Deval Patrick was elected governor of Massachusetts and before David Paterson was upgraded to governor of New York after hooker-gate.
He was the, pardon my parlance, the HNIC, “Head Negro in Charge.”*
But if he truly was the HNIC, he was a figure-head, only holding sway in his state and among other Republicans. Most blacks outside of Maryland didn’t know who he was and disregarded him the minute they learned that he was that dreaded anathema, a black conservative.
Coming from a Democratic household only to later convert to Republicanism in his youth, Steele was aware of his “odd man out” status among the majority of political minded African Americans.
There was the phantom “Oreo cookie” incident, where Steele famously claimed that a plague of locust-like, black and white snack treats rained down at his feet at a 2002 gubernatorial race debate in Maryland, moderated by the Balitmore NAACP.
“Maybe it was just someone having their snack, but it was there,” Steele said after the debate. “If it happened, shame on them if they are that immature and that threatened by me.”
Steele claimed opponent Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s campaign handed out cookies to the audience beforehand, but other than Steele and his communications manager, no one could corroborate that the incident actually took place.
Steele rose quickly as a star in the party after his stint as lieutenant governor in a largely Democratic state. He spoke at the 2004 Republican Convention, giving the counterpoint speech to Barack Obama’s as the Democratic Convention. He was persuaded to run for senate in Maryland. Despite having a clever “I’m not a puppy hater” commercial, was throttled by his Democratic opponent, Benjamin L. Cardin, 55-to-44 percent.
This doesn’t look misleading at all. See? It’s Steel Democrats! Get it?
Steele’s loss could also be attributed to some financial shenanigans with the party and a shady flier that gave the impression he was a Democrat and was endorsed by other prominent black Democrats, none of which were true. As seen in the photo above, this was not misleading at all. It says Steele Democrats on it. Of course, they could have put “Steal Democrats” on it and it would have been more apropos. But honest mistake, I’m sure.
Steele also tried with some success (and some failure) at appealing to the black community to give the other side a shake.
“There was this wall, this separation, this question of my blackness and where I stood on issues and what it all meant and I would start every conversation with what do you see,” Steele said at the State of the Black Union earlier this year.
Steele argued that he was still a black man who’d lived through similar experiences as other blacks and that black people must recognize that blacks do have a diversity of thought. He mentioned the works of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, saying “We’re the generation that is a great beneficiary of the work of Dr. King and many others who got us to the lunch counter,” Steele said. “Now we have to realize we have to take ownership of the diner.”
Half-jokingly/half-serious, Steele encouraged the audience to vote Republican in the fall.
Steele is anti-abortion, anti-embryonic stem cell research, pro-tax cuts and pro-death penalty. But Steele is not a hardliner on other core conservative issues, speaking about inequities in blacks receiving the death plenty more often than whites. Streele is also surprisingly for Affirmative Action, the usual scourge of black Republicans. He sees it as a necessity considering the glaring gaps in education, income and employment between blacks and whites.
Steele is presently working for the Republican National Committee, but doesn’t rule out a return to office. He’s made the pundit circuit talking about Obama’s candidacy and while he doesn’t give a lot of specifics in his tr
ue feelings for the Great Black Hopemongerer, Steele calls Obama’s ascension a proud moment for all black Americans.
At the State of the Black Union, Steele exclaimed his pride over a Barack Obama candidacy.
“I’m very proud of Barack Obama to do what he has done and proud of what he’s doing,” he said, adding that while he is the “polar opposite” to Obama’s, “We can all be proud at an African American Republican achieving such success.”
Steele made some similar statements in an interview with Marc Fisher, reported on Fisher’s blog “Raw Fisher” on the Washington Post Web site.
“What’s kicked in is this sense of pride,” says Michael Steele, the Prince George’s Republican who lost a race for U.S. Senate two years ago. “Initially, all the talk was ‘we don’t know him or what he stands for,’ but after the Clintons did their show in South Carolina, it kind of moved black people beyond any sense of allegiance to the Clintons. Now you have a Shakespearean melodrama being played out between Lady Macbeth and Hamlet.”
Steele, who grew up a Democrat in Washington, says he has watched his friends in politics–many of whom are black Democrats–fall for Obama in a big way. “This whole Camelot thing, falling in love with the idea of a black president–putting him in this bubble does all of us a disservice. In fact, he’s extremely talented. But you need to apply the same standards you would to anyone else.”
Steele appears to have warmer feelings for Obama than some other black conservatives, like Obama’s former opponent Alan Keyes, who takes Obama-hate to new, psychotic levels. But he’s a bit of a toss up for the ultimate test for Obamaitis.
Chances of Endorsing Obama: Not if he wants to keep working for the Republican Party. No matter how Steele really feels he’s made a life for himself as a Republican and is in a good position with the party that could lead to work in future presidential administration or a possible VP ticket in the future. He’s not going to rock the boat.
Chances of Voting for Obama: I think not, considering Steele is anti-abortion and that can be a deal breaker. Steele actually considered the priesthood, so he likely takes his pro-fetus stance seriously. (Although Steele doesn’t appear to support a constitutional ban on abortion.)
*Correction, Steele’s claim of HNIC-ness has been challenged by DailyKos reader Bendygirl. The Maryland State Archives site says he was. But the Ohio Chamber of Commerce site says “Hell. To. The. No.” Jeanette Bradley was the lieutenant boss with the sauce.”