Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Is "Celebrity" the New "Black"?

Um, appears to be the case, if you happen to be an African-American running against Republicans for an office that, heretofore, has been held only by Caucasians.  Or, I dunno, maybe "celebrity" is just some conservatives way of saying that a certain person is, um, articulate. 

I didn't have any real problem when the McCain campaign called Barack Obama a "celebrity." Given the huge crowds the man was getting, all the magazine covers, the fawning media, etc., "celebrity" seemed to be a a fair word.

But, then along comes this Washington Times story:  

Curly Haugland, an RNC member from North Dakota and the former North Dakota Republican Party chairman...called on [Michael Steele] to quit the contest for Republican national chairman because he is not an RNC member.

"In my estimation, 168 committed members of the Republican National Committee are a powerful army of qualified advocates for Republican principles; certainly much more threatening to the Democrats than one celebrity spokesman," Mr. Haugland said. 

He added that selecting Steele would be an example of the RNC "outsourcing" its leadership.  Now, this criticism might be understandable were Steele to have no connection to the party infrastructure.  But Steele was once Maryland state party chairman -- thus a former member of the committee. And, selecting an outsider for chairman isn't unheard of.  Indeed, in 1990, the RNC selected Bill Bennett as chairman to replace the dying Lee Atwater. Bennett eventually turned it down for financial personal reasons.  But Bennett was never a committeman (neither was Atwater, for that matter). In addition, there have also been several "shared" chairmanships in the past, where a committeeman did the day-to-day running of the party, while a slightly more telegenic and -- yes, "celebrity" -- spokesman was the official face of the party.  (This blogger makes the point that being a committeeman seems to be some sort of tradition when the party doesn't control the White House)

But even so, attacking a candidate because that individual is a "celebrity spokesman" is still something new.  

But then, of course, the question presents itself:  

Under what metric is Michael Steele a "celebrity" -- aside from being both telegenic and able to discuss Republican issues without coming across as elitist or offensive? But ask 100 avg. Republicans, and I would be surprised if 30 could identify Michael Steele by name -- right now. Maybe I'm being too sensitive about raising the racial implications, but "celebrity" is a pretty weird word to use against Steele.   

Now, earlier in Thanksgiving week, I was talking to a smart, conservative former RNC apparatchik who I greatly respect: He used the same word -- "celebrity" -- to describe Steele. He's the last person I would consider racist -- and he had solid reasons for why he thought Steele wouldn't be a good choice (he loved the idea of
Ken Blackwell as committee chair). When he used "celebrity," it didn't set off any bells for me. But the fact RNC committeman Haughland also used it suggests that this is a meme that anti-Steele forces have adopted (obviously, in politics, you only need two examples to make a trend, not three). My source probably just "got the memo" and passed it along to me, without thinking about the implications.

But the anti-Steele forces better re-think this strategy, because I can't be the only person to make this connection.

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