Michael Steele has been the consummate politician for a number of years, but his recent public appearances have made people wonder what the “New Republican Party” will actually stand for. Some fear that his propensity for headline grabbing will render him less than credible as a serious leader of the party of Lincoln. Currently, he is an enigma to blacks and whites, Democrats and Republicans, and the rich and poor. It is safe to deduce that Mr. Steele is attempting to find his voice; unfortunately his movement needs bold leadership - now.
The media has said much concerning the downward spiral of the Republican Party, which has caused it to lose control of the House, the Senate, and the White House. It’s clear that the current economic policies of the Obama administration have given true conservatives an opportunity to become the “loyal opposition” and regain a sense of purpose and dignity. Unfortunately, the party is so out-gunned that it has to have a level of unity and political sagacity that is unusual in these days.
Ultimately, Steele wants to enlarge his following and make the GOP a thriving brand again. Grassroots leaders are painfully aware that the first step to building a huge movement is often making it small. Making it small means redefining the movement’s vision and its core values. It means making sure that everyone knows what it means to be a conservative or a Republican.
Last week, Rush Limbaugh helped the conservative movement by clarifying and refining the definition of current conservative principles. While Michael Steele apologized to Limbaugh for diminishing him as being “just an entertainer,” I wonder if Mr. Steele really understands the sequence that his messages to the nation must take. Re-establishing a unifying vision comes first. Recruiting new members comes second. The unifying phase does not have to take an entire year, but it must be given some time.
Social conservatives are especially fearful that the new chairman will throw them under the bus. They believe that he has already minimized their battle to secure constitutional amendments around the nation. Since Steele is personally a social conservative, I can only deduce that his new “handlers” have coached him to avoid stereotypes. They say that he must break with the dead weight of the past. The party must become more secular and it cannot be an old boy’s club for gentlemen from the south. While the need to change the party’s image may be real, preserving the core values of a much-needed movement is incredibly more important.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.