Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Friday, October 16, 2009

Let The Boring Old White Guys Be Boring Old White Guys

Some recent missteps by the Republican party on matters of race, coupled with the unfair demonization of Rush Limbaugh, have gotten me thinking about efforts to reach out beyond the traditional base of the Republican party. What I've realized is that, counter-intuitive though it may seem, having Michael Steele as the RNC Chair may actually hinder the party more than it helps.

Let me start with an example. I've worked with kids quite a bit, primarily through church. I've taught and volunteered with ages ranging from four through junior high. I'm only 28, a kid at heart, and I can sing the Hannah Montana theme song without missing a word. And yet, I've never tried to be cool, or act like I'm one of the kids. I know better. It isn't through any great wisdom of my own. I just remember junior high, and am keenly aware of the fact that I wasn't even cool when I WAS 13. Why would I be silly enough to assume I can con them into believing I'm cool now that I'm over a decade beyond their age?

The truth is that no adult should try to act cool around kids. We can't. The best of us is still just an old guy or gal, and kids can see right through anyone attempting to be something they aren't. So why should we assume any less of other adults?

To bring this post back around to the more pertinent topic, the Republican party needs to realize what it is, and what it isn't. Just as I am not a cool pre-tween, the Republican party is a party of boring old white guys. Now obviously not every Republican falls into that category. I know plenty of black Republicans, plenty of female Republicans, and I still count as a young Republican. But the center of gravity in the party is old, and boring, and white. And that's ok. It doesn't mean we can't reach out to minorities and change who we are over time as we draw them in. But meanwhile, we need to understand what we're starting out with. And that's when Michael Steele becomes a problem.

Steele is neither boring, nor old, nor white. He knows it, and we know it. But neither is he an average black American. While his personal story is inspiring, his elite education, high income, and decades of interaction with the rich and powerful are not typical of anyone of any race. However, because of his pigmentation, I worry that Chairman Steele thinks he has a greater "common touch" with black voters than is actually the case. Just as it is easy for me to fall into the trap of trying to be "one of the kids" with the youth group, it is easy for Michael Steele to make the same mistake. The rest of the boring old white guys running the party are painfully aware of how un-hip they really are. None of them would launch a blog called "What Up".

The truth is that, like anyone else, minority voters don't want to be talked down to. They don't expect old white guys to be hip, nor will they tolerate them pretending to be. Ironically enough, the quintessential boring old white guy, Newt Gingrich, has the right idea. He's traveling around talking to black voters about education reform. He isn't trying to be "cool" or "one of the guys". Instead, he's simply interested in finding common ground through real dialogue. Listening to people, and talking to them about real issues will always win more friends that pretending to be what you think they want. It works in junior high, and it works in real life.