Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele used to be able to muster a lot of disdain for political players who suggested that criticism of them might be racially motivated.
"I don’t play the race card, I don’t play the race game, the way some tend to do," Steele, the Republican Party’s most prominent African-American leader, declared last November.
The RNC chair used to argue that the very mention of race as a factor in how pols are perceived and treated was liberal whining and he has said that he is "sick and tired" of those on the left who "play that race card, that slavery card, that civil rights card (when) their backs are up against the wall."
But no more.
Steele, who has since assuming the leadership of the Grand Old Party taken hits from disgruntled RNC staffers, key Republicans in Congress and, above all, conservative talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, is now wondering aloud about whether criticism of him is motivated by racism.
Steele has certainly experienced his share of partisan and ideological poking and prodding from Democrats and liberals since taking over as the RNC’s top man last year, criticism that he suggests is rooted in: "The general mindset when you see, hear or read about an African American, you think, politically, Democrat. And all of a sudden, you’ve got this brother who’s a Republican…"
But what’s made news more often than not has been the inside-the-big-tent battering he’s gotten from conservatives like Limbaugh, who once complained that the chairman was behaving like a "talking head media star" and, according to the conservative Washington Times newspaper, "from prominent GOP operatives and fund-raisers (who) have criticized Steele for seeming to focus more on his own image (and pocketbook) rather than the good of the party."
In a new interview with Washingtonian magazine, Steele, one of the Republican party’s most high-profile African-American stalwarts for a number of years, noted that Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine, who is white, doesn’t seem to be the target of the same sort of griping, embarrassing leaks and negative publicity that the RNC chair is experiencing.