Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Goodbye, Mount Koppel

For twenty-six years we've come to know him and, if not exactly love him, certainly welcome his steady presence and journalistic gravitas in our living rooms when we had enough of the late-night froth of Leno and Letterman, and the denizens of post-prime-time programming who didn't last.

Last night we bid goodbye to Ted Koppel, the craggy, sometimes relentlessly mirthless fixture of ABC News' "Nightline," a program that began its life with the United States in the midst of a hostage crisis -- a show that, ironically enough, finds the nation caught up in another hostage crisis in the Middle East, this time of its own unwise design. Koppel handed over the reins of the program to multiple hosts who'll produce the show from New York and Washington. Reporters Chris Bury and John Donvan will take over hosting duties, along with Vicki Mabrey, late of CBS' "60 Minutes II," as well as Martin Bashir, Cynthia McFadden and Terry Moran as contributors. The new raft of hosts and correspondents will begin on Nov. 28.


"Nightline" began, of course, with the ABC News program "The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage," which aired Nov. 8, 1979, just days after American hostages were seized at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Koppel introduced viewers to what would become the "Nightline" formula. After "Nightline" began as a formal entity in March 1980, Koppel unveiled the point-counterpoint style of interviewing, pitting two ideological opposites against each other on a given topic, with Koppel aiming thoughtful, sometimes provocative questions at both combatants.

In some respects Koppel's form was the antecedent to the attack-dog style of TV news journalism that's led us to "Hardball" and any number of other confrontational programs. But Koppel's on-air demeanor was a cut above that of the pit-bull interrogators that populate the 21st-century TV landscape.

Even in his globe-trotting prime, Koppel always betrayed a bit of Alistair Cooke in his delivery and his use of language. He maintained a high editorial standard, and resisted doing stories on the lowbrow tabloid titillation of the moment.

Even in last night's valedictory broadcast, when he could have resorted to the summational reflex of a video-grab retrospective -- a greatest-hits approach that's so overdone you wonder why TV journalists bother to do it or why we still bother to watch -- Koppel took another tack, going back to his poignant 1995 broadcasts on the life of Morrie Schwartz, the sociology teacher whose battle with Lou Gehrig's disease gave "Nightline" some of its more riveting moments, even as it gave a young sportswriter named Mitch Albom the storyline for a book, "Tuesdays with Morrie," that's become a publishing phenomenon.

Still, only being human, Koppel couldn't resist taking one final shot at ABC News, the network that almost kicked him to the curb not so many years ago, in the big rush to late-night, stand-up stupidity.

Since ABC is presumably still in the hunt for a permanent anchor for "World News Tonight," a post vacant since the death of Peter Jennings earlier this year, we have to wonder how Koppel might have done in the big chair. ANC could do worse, and probably will.

Last night the ever-charitable Koppel asked his dwindling audience -- down to about 3.6 million viewers from 5.5 million a decade ago, according to "Nightline" producer James Goldston (speaking to AP) -- to give the new hosts a chance to become a regular fixture in their TV-viewing lives, the way he had become one.

“If you don’t,” he said, “I promise you the network will just put another comedy show in this time slot. Then you’ll be sorry.”

But to some degree, we're already sorry at the departure of something modern American television sorely lacks these days: an institutional memory, a hard drive of the historical, a conduit between the present and the past, a tree-ring experience in a time of loudmouthed saplings ... something that lasts.
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Image credit: Koppel: ABC News

Friday, November 18, 2005

A hawk flies north

Not that the antiwar movement needed a bigger gun than the thunder of its own convictions, but those opposing the debacle in Iraq gained a powerful ally yesterday, when one of the more resolute and influential hawks in Congress – a Democrat! – came out, with passion, power and an eloquence sorely lacking on Capitol Hill, against the war he had supported in 2002.

Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, a Vietnam veteran with a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, said it plainly in Washington. “It’s time to bring them home. … Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency … we have become a catalyst for violence,” he said. “The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.”

In his comments, Murtha went on to fire a smart broadside at Vice President Dick Cheney, who the night before at a black-tie event, adopted the administration party line, railing against those who want U.S. forces brought home as “dishonest,” “reprehensible,” and claiming that withdrawal now sends the wrong signal and opens the door for more insurgents, presumably emboldened by our nation's premature departure from Iraq.

“I like that,” Murtha said yesterday, with a palpable sarcasm. “I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don’t like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.”

The same day, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, chimed in, warning the White House to halt its ad hominem smear campaign against Iraq-war critics, calling it “a weak, spineless display of politics at a time of war.”

As expected, the administration responded aggressively. “They want us to retreat,” said Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. “They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world.”

Texas Republican Rep. Sam Johnson, himself a Vietnam veteran and a POW for seven years, weighed in as well. “We’ve got to support our troops to the hilt and see this mission through,” Johnson said, underscoring one of the fundamental administration disconnects related to public debate on the war: an eagerness to equate criticism of the war with criticism of the decent, loyal Americans sent to fight it.

In a statement, White House press secretary & mouthpiece Scott McClellan leveled another attack. “The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists,” McClellan said. “Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America. So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.”

The vitriolic administration position against Murtha begs the question of why they think a man who has stood on principle for so long, in both his career as a public servant and as a decorated military veteran, would have suddenly vacated those principles. It escapes them that, by the very fact of his reversal, just maybe the policy positions Murtha has adopted aren’t as extreme as the administration would have Americans believe.

One problem for the Bushies is Murtha’s 31-year stature as a Congressman. As the leading Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Murtha has expertise long been sought by Democrats and Republicans. He once worked as an aide to Cheney when Cheney was secretary of defense, and he has visited Iraq numerous times. As a confidant of American forces, Murtha is thought to be that rare politician: one who’s got both the throw weight in the hallowed halls and the gravitas to speak for troops on the ground on military matters – not an easy thing for the administration to dismiss.

Murtha’s comments from Capitol Hill lead us to make a not-so-venturesome prediction: The year 2006 will be the watershed year for debate on the Iraq war. The relatively sporadic protests against the war – Cindy Sheehan’s mobile vigil; comments and reporting from disinterested international observers and journalists; the growing concern among Republican lawmakers – will coalesce into the visibly broad, transgenerational tide of fearless public sentiment that the administration has no doubt anticipated, if not feared outright.

It’s taking shape already: On Tuesday, even while defeating a Democratic plan for a firm exit timetable, the Republican-controlled Senate approved a statement of its concern, saying that 2006 should be the year in which the conditions are established for the start of a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

On Thursday, the Republic of South Korea blindsided President Bush by announcing its intention to withdraw 3,200 troops from Iraq sometime next year – an announcement that must have been a particular embarrassment to Bush, who the same day met with Asian economic leaders at a summit … in Pusan, South Korea.

And today, Sen. John Kerry, who knows a thing or three about being the victim of character assassination, spoke from the Senate floor with a novel interpretation of the oft-used Republican phrase “cut and run”:

“We are in trouble today, Mr. President, precisely because of a policy of cut and run – a policy where the administration made the wrong choice to cut and run from established procedures of gathering intelligence … to cut and run from the best military advice, to cut and run from sensible wartime planning, to cut and run from their responsibility to properly arm and protect our troops, to cut and run from history’s clear lessons about the Middle East and about Iraq itself – to cut and run from common sense.”

Another example of the cut-and-run was suggested in a retort from Arizona GOP Sen. Jon Kyl, who spoke right after Kerry did. Kyl resorted to the longstanding Republican “choral error” argument in defending the decision to go to war, saying (again) that the United States had a lot of company in its prewar assessments of Iraq’s danger.

“Our intelligence, and that of virtually every other nation in the world, believed that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world and had weapons of mass destruction, and in some cases was developing capability for additional weapons of mass destruction,” Kyl said.

Thus was this nation led into the single most disastrous American military misadventure since Vietnam – by cutting and running from the facts: Not waging war on the basis of knowledge but on the basis of a suspicion; not on the strength of singular intelligence singularly arrived at but on the strength of groupthink, assumptions and a deviously cultivated fear.

And at the end of the day, it’s not prewar intelligence that’s the pivotal issue, despite the vituperative claims and counterclaims of those in Congress. The real issue up for debate is the actions taken by the United States even after the inaccuracy of our prewar intelligence was well-established. Long after that prewar intel was found to be toweringly wrong – the aluminum tubes Colin Powell demonized at the United Nations; the yellowcake uranium found not to even exist; the fictional linkage of 9/11 and the Iraqi regime – this nation persisted in following a military course of action, which strongly suggests that course of action was what the administration intended to pursue all along, no matter what the facts were.

Jack Murtha’s courageous stand – one of several he’s taken in the last thirty-five years – really shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s a case of a hawk having the nerve to fly north for the winter, breaking from a flock still largely heading in the other direction. Murtha’s a bird of a different feather; sooner or later, others are likely to join him. Once again, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

An elephant in distress

It may be too soon to officially put the Republican Party on a respirator, and reports of their demise may be premature, but the outcome of some of Tuesday’s state and local elections have clearly sent a signal that the GOP is in trouble. It is trouble that party loyalists insist has nothing to do with the standard-bearer of the Republicans, President George Bush, but the shifting mood of the electorate suggests otherwise.

Ron Fournier, veteran political writer for The Associated Press, said “President Bush’s political ills seem contagious,” but that's a masterful understatement. Right now, politically speaking, George Bush has the walkin’ pneumonia and the boogie-woogie avian flu, and the results of some of those contests point to the Republicans’ ironic inability to inoculate themselves from the one man who should have been their doctor.

It began Tuesday night with a very big win for the Democrats in Virginia, that longtime Republican stronghold, once a seat of the Confederacy, a state that hadn’t gone for a Democrat for president since 1964 – and one in which Republicans have control of the Legislature and the state’s seats in Congress. Despite a personal appearance on the stump by President Bush, GOP gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore was beaten by Democratic lieutenant governor Tim Kaine, who trumped Kilgore by 6 percentage points.

The postmortem indicated that citizen Kaine took a page from the Republican playbook, outflanking Kilgore on the GOP’s once-unassailable selling point: Values. Kaine placed his first campaign ad on a Christian radio station, Fournier reported.

Kaine’s first television ad played up his past experience with Catholic missionaries. And maybe most damaging was Kaine’s association with the popular Democratic governor, Mark R. Warner, who last year was mentioned, albeit briefly, as a possible running mate for Sen. John Kerry.

Then came news of the governor’s race in New Jersey. Sen. Jon Corzine, the popular Democrat who vaulted to his senate post after a career on Wall Street, trounced Republican challenger Doug Forrester in a vituperative contest that saw a lot of name-calling before it was all over.

Elsewhere, the drumbeat against Republicans continued. In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor turned Republican governor, saw pet-project ballot initiatives rebuffed by voters increasingly fed up with the once- and probably-future movie Terminator.

It may be hard to find the links between these sound Republican defeats and President Bush – other than the power of the theory that standing next to a man perceived as a loser makes you a loser by association. Bush’s job approval ratings continue to spiral downward in the wake of Katrina fallout, and the still-developing problems stemming from the indictment of White House aide and novelist “Scooter” Libby in the CIA leak investigation.

The president’s loyal minions are working hard to shore up the distance between Bush and the GOP losers on Tuesday. White House press secretary Scott McClellan, for example, dismissed the idea that Bush’s problems aided in Kilgore’s defeat in Virginia.

“Any thorough analysis of the gubernatorial elections is going to show that the elections were decided on local and state issues, and the candidates and their agendas,” McClellan said, presumably with a straight face, at the White House on Wednesday.

But whether he realizes it or not, McClellan’s comment deftly, if accidentally, undercut the ability of This President to employ the intangible powers of his office – the bully pulpit of the presidency – to do anyone in his party any good at all. It’s a tacit admission of the toothlessness of George Bush in his second term, an indicator of a relative impotence that’s likely to continue.

Whether the Democrats can capitalize on this next year is anyone’s guess. Tuesday’s elections in a handful of states point to the strong possibility of the Dems finally getting some messengers, still leaving open the question of whether they’ll finally get a message.

But the Republicans in power are looking down the tunnel and, to paraphrase the poet Robert Lowell, the light they see at the other end may well be an oncoming train. After five long years, it seems, reports of Republican invulnerability have been greatly exaggerated.
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Image credit: Kaine: Steve Helber, Associated Press

Monday, November 7, 2005

The Making of the President 2008, take 1?

Just for a moment, as you watched the two politicians prowling the stage, microphones in hand as they argued their own positions and railed against the other guy’s, you forgot what day it was. Or even what year it was. Did they give an election and forget to send you an invitation?

For just the sliver of time it took for your faculties to kick in, what was broadcast last night on NBC appeared to be a real debate between contenders for the presidency of the United States. But wasn’t that Detective Bobby Simone, Sipowicz’s former partner on “NYPD Blue” in one corner, and Hawkeye Pierce from “M*A*S*H” in the other?



Last night NBC undertook, in prime time, the latest smudging of the ever-blurring line between fiction and reality when it broadcast a live episode of its acclaimed political series “The West Wing.” Jimmy Smits, late of “NYPD Blue,” appeared as Rep. Matt Santos, the Democratic challenger. Alan Alda, from “M*A*S*H,” portrayed his Republican challenger, Sen. Arnold Vinick, in a mock debate meant to hew to the “West Wing” story line of a presidential election just starting to heat up in TV World (three years before the real thing in our own).

It was a compelling prime-time trick, meant to help shore up NBC’s sagging ratings. MSNBC.com followed the stunt a step further, ordering a poll from the esteemed Zogby International polling organization to sample 1,208 viewer opinions to find out who “won.”

Regardless of who prevailed – Santos/Smits was declared the “winner” by a handy double-digit margin – the “West Wing” exercise may be instructive in what it suggests could play out in the 2006 elections, and maybe even in 2008. It would be the height of folly to follow this thing out the window, but who, right now, can say for sure that the mock debate won’t set some baseline of perception for the real elections to come?

The real-life polls for the Republican Party, and especially for President Bush, are nothing to write home about. A failed Supreme Court nomination, a burgeoning scandal with possible origins in the White House, a bid for a Social Security overhaul stuck in neutral (at best), and the slow bleed of our national misadventure in Iraq have combined to wear down the national patience for GOP leadership. Perception is reality, the saying goes, and the perception of the Republicans has been increasingly disappointing for more and more Americans.

If the perception is that a fictional Democrat won a fictional presidential debate, it’s at least possible that Americans fed up with the gradual erosion of the nation’s global credibility will take a subconscious cue from the “West Wing” goof and entertain the notion of change in who leads the country starting in 2008.

It wouldn’t be the first time that television has imparted its own reality to American politics.

In the legendary September 1960 presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, TV viewers were treated to a contrast of styles that became its own reality. Kennedy, prepared and looking haberdasher-smooth and polished, engaged Nixon, who was clearly fighting off some kind of ailment, looking sweaty and nervous, eyes shifty and seemingly insincere, a man pasty as a corpse even on black and white TV.

Theodore H. White understood it even then. In his book “The Making of the President 1960,” White observed the viral proliferation of television sets among American families and how “[W]ithin a single decade the medium has exploded to a dimension in shaping the American mind that rivals that of America’s schools and churches.”

It’s telling that, according to White, Nixon was thought to have held his own in the debate for a radio audience, but for the millions of television viewers Kennedy was the clear choice hands-down:

“Those who heard the debates on radio, according to sample surveys, believed that the two candidates came off almost equal. Yet every survey of those who watched the debates on television indicated the Vice President [Nixon] had come off poorly and, in the opinion of many, very poorly. It was the picture image that had done it – and in 1960 television had won the nation away from sound to images, and that was that.”

The rest is history, the stuff of our political folklore, and proof of the still-evolving power of visual perception in our culture.

Again, it’s a huge leap from a real debate of presidential contenders to a fake debate of actors pretending to be presidential contenders. But again again, perception engenders its own reality.

And when one political party is beset with intractable challenges, some of its own making, the burden of responsibility rests on its shoulders to separate – in the mind of an impatient public dazzled by a visual culture – fiction from the realest of real things.
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Image credit: NBC

Friday, November 4, 2005

'Simple Sambo'

That lovely sobriquet is one blogger’s name for Michael Steele, the African-American lieutenant governor of Maryland, a man seeking to become the state’s first black senator. The phrase didn’t come from what might be seen as the Usual Suspect of a white supremacist or a Web-savvy bigot on a tear. The label – and its accompanying minstrel-makeup image – was the work of a New Yorker who helms a news commentary Web site, a black member of the blogosphere with a bone to pick about a brother seen to have crossed the political tracks.

Therein lies a story of how African-American sentiment is at some pivotal intersection of race, politics and historical loyalty – a story of the ways in which black Americans are caught up in the same ugly, red state-blue state polarities as everyone else.

Steele – who plans to run in 2006 for the Senate seat that is set to open with the coming retirement of Democrat Paul Sarbanes -- has been the target of black Democrats for his presence and emerging role in the Republican party, a party seen, right or wrong, as antagonistic to black causes and aspirations.

Steele, and the GOP leadership generally, have been working to overcome the longstanding shaky courtship between blacks and Republicans. Steele has hastened to put things in a wider historical context, reminding people about the past love feast between the two in centuries past.

It's sure true enough – as the GOP has never, ever tired of letting people know – that the Republican party is “the party of Lincoln.” After the agonies of the Civil War, the presidential heirs to the Great Emancipator made black advancement more of a priority than it’s been in modern times.

After the assassination of President Lincoln, and no doubt partly as a reflexive commiseration reaction to that murder, African Americans flocked to the Republican party, which led the way to Congressional passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution — the one outlawing slavery. Republican efforts were also central to passage, in 1866, of a civil rights act that extended full rights to black Americans.

Progress continued in fits and starts into the twentieth century. But under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1936, and thoroughly in the context of “what have you done for me lately?” blacks changed course, voting overwhelmingly for FDR, in part because of government spending initiatives, like the work relief programs that benefited black Americans during the depths of the Great Depression.

Black people were beneficiaries of other Democratic policies, including President Truman's 1948 signing of Executive Order 9981, which committed the U.S. government, at long last, to integrating a long-segregated military.

Fast forward 15 years or so: Civil rights programs under President Kennedy and, more dramatically, under President Johnson (the Great Society program and his role in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act) further cemented the relationship between blacks and Democrats.

But by then, the split that started between the Democrats and many of their white southern counterparts — who hated Truman's 1948 desegregation order and the Democrats' subsequent support of the civil rights movement — had widened into a figurative Grand Canyon.

The capstone of that Democrat-driven bid for progress was probably when Johnson undertook his Great Society initiative – an effort that led to the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and Johnson’s own prophetic suspicion that his actions on behalf of black Americans delivered the Southern states as a voting bloc into the hands of Republicans for years to come.

The Dixiecrats — those disaffected Democrats who bolted to the Republican party in 1964 — were centraal to the success of Richard Nixon's “southern strategy” in 1968, and formed the nucleus of what would ultimately become the modern GOP.

The problem many black Americans have with the GOP is largely a contemporary one, and it explains, to some extent, the allergic reaction blacks have toward the Republicans.

Let's count the ways: There's the lingering bad taste of the 2000 “hanging chad” election, and the persistent belief among many black voters that the results were somehow rigged, invalidating their votes.

Then there's Bush's nomination of Judge Charles Pickering to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, despite Pickering's less-than-stellar record on civil rights decisions. Pickering criticized the “one-person, one-vote” principle recognized by the Supreme Court and tried to limit remedies provided by the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Apparently indifferent to minority concerns, Bush installed Pickering on the federal bench in January 2004 as a recess appointment, bypassing the routine Senate confirmation process.

In January 2003, on what would have been Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's 74th birthday, Bush condemned the admissions system at the University of Michigan, which used race as only one of several factors to determine qualification for admission, as “divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution.” Rep. John Conyers, leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, called the president's position “yet another slap in the face of African-American and minority leaders across the country.”

And in July 2004, in an action fraught with deep symbolism, Bush rebuffed the NAACP’s invitation to speak before its national convention, becoming the first sitting president since Warren G. Harding to refuse to address the convention. Bush chose instead to speak before the National Urban League convention – apparently oblivious to the fact that many members of the one organization also belong to the other.

The chafing was perhaps symbolized in August 2004, Nadia Naffe, a black former field director for the Republican Party, filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Florida GOP of racial discrimination, saying she was fired after complaining about being “race-matched,” or assigned to work only with black organizations.

Naffe's lawsuit alleges she was threatened by Republican Party officials and subjected to stereotypical comments by the staff.

“It seems like the Republican Party is in a continuous search for those elusive black voters,” said David A. Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank concentrating on African American and minority issues.

“The party of Lincoln? I don't think so,” Bositis told me in October 2004. “The Republican party is now the party of Jefferson Davis.”

All of which begins to explain the genesis of “Simple Sambo.” Such a hateful, ugly label doesn’t emerge in a vacuum. It speaks to an automatic antipathy that’s as unproductive as any directed at African Americans.

At least one black conservative said as much. “I don’t quite understand why Michael Steele has been targeted for this kind of hatred,” said Garland Williamson, president of a black business organization. “Anybody can disagree with Michael Steele or anybody else they want to disagree with, but let’s talk about the issues,” Williamson told The Associated Press in a Nov. 3 story.

But another black conservative, while not agreeing with the slander, at least appreciated its historical foundation. Ron Walters, author of a book on conservative public policy in black America, said black Republicans are often “perceived to be tools of the conservative white power structure.”

“Terms like Uncle Tom, sellout, Stepin’ Fetchit — those terms have not come from nowhere. They have a history,” Walters told the Associated Press. “It is deserved, to the degree that they support anti-racial policies.”

It hasn’t gone unnoticed by the GOP leadership and others under its banner. In October 2004, Marc Racicot, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told me of the GOP mission: to increase outreach to black voters. He pointed to the diversity of the Bush Cabinet.

“Have we made progress? We’ve made significant progress," Racicot said. "This president has the most diverse Cabinet in the history of America and has relied on the competence of a talented group of African Americans in that Cabinet – from [Secretary of State] Colin Powell to [HUD secretary] Alphonso Jackson to [then-National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice, and others.”

“Those are the kind of demonstrations that mean something to people in the African American community.”

Which begs the question, then and now, more than a year later, how such opposing philosophies can exist in one party – the diversity of the Cabinet played out against policies that call into question the value of having such a diverse group of advisers in the first place. It’s this dichotomy that confuses black voters, and suggests a fundamental insincerity that’s hard to overcome.

Armstrong Williams, the conservative black commentator, cut to the chase in January 2003: “The Republican Party has to realize that it cannot be lily-white any longer,” he said. “Change must come about, and it must start within our house.”

No question, the “Simple Sambo” slight was a nasty slap in the face of a brother hoping to advance his own political star and, by extension, elevate the electoral profile of black America in a way that breaks with the Democratic party’s longstanding reflexive assumptions of black people as being in their camp, no matter what.

But that slight didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s also a manifestation of the frustration that African Americans more broadly feel because of a party that’s seemingly complacent about addressing the needs and concerns of black Americans – concerns symbolized most recently by the piss-poor response of the federal government to the plight of mostly-black victims of Hurricane Katrina [see “American Tsunami I-V”].

Michael Steele’s upcoming campaign may well change his own political destiny, but black people are hoping to change their own destinies – to shape their own destinies – and the GOP needs to step up to the plate and speak to their social, economic and political concerns in a way that doesn’t look like so much photo-op window dressing. Speaking to the complexities of those concerns may be the paramount challenge for the Republicans, in both the midterm elections next year and the presidential vote in 2008.

It’s as simple as that.
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Image credit: Steele: U.S. Navy (public domain). Bottom image from the 1899 version of the children's book 'Little Black Sambo.'
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