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Commentary: Michael Steel must free GOP

opinion Willmar,Minnesota 56201
West Central Tribune
Commentary: Michael Steel must free GOP
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WASHINGTON -- 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 RNC stab 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.

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.

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.

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 University of Tennessee-Chattanooga political science professor, lawyer and Republican activist. And, some might say ... a troublemaker?

"I wear the label very proudly," she says.

Howard-Hill is a familiar name in party politics, especially in Tennessee, where she is running for Congress after decades of recruiting blacks to the GOP. A Georgia-born scholar whose childhood memories include a cross burning in her front yard, she seems an unlikely Republican.

"You have to be a little crazy to be an African-American Republican. I admit that."

But Howard-Hill sees the Republican Party as her natural home and, importantly, the best route for economic empowerment.

"Some of us are tired of being poor."

But many political candidates are being hampered in part by a lack of access to the RNC coffers, says Howard-Hill. She blames Steele, and amends his different-standards defense accordingly.

"I would say we're (blacks) treated differently within the party. But in terms of integrity, the standard is the same. Michael needs to own up because it's not race. From day one, he has messed up. ... If he wants to play the race card, play it with us."

To be fair to Steele, he didn't introduce the race issue and was responding to a question. Nevertheless, his answer and the African-American Republican response have shed light on Steele's central flaw. As always, it isn't the mistake that brings you down; it's the cover-up.

In Steele's case, the cover-up is pride -- an unwillingness to take personal responsibility. Whether it's the poor staffer who approved $1,900 for a strip club or the chief of staff who got the boot, it's always someone else's fault.

Steele needs to face the truth and set himself -- and his party -- free.

Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is