November 9, 2005
How Can Liberals Be Racist? Ask Michael Steele
By Ruben Navarrette Jr.

SAN DIEGO -- Who's afraid of a black Republican?

Well, if that Republican's name is Michael Steele and he's seeking to become Maryland's first black senator, the answer is: Just about everyone.

Let's start with Democratic officials such as Thomas V. ``Mike'' Miller Jr., the president of the state Senate. In 2001, Miller called Steele -- then head of the state Republican Party -- an ``Uncle Tom.'' Miller later apologized for the slur.

Then there are Democratic Party activists such as the ones who, when Steele was running for lieutenant governor in 2002, gave him a rude reception at a gubernatorial debate at a predominantly black university. The activists pelted Steele with Oreo cookies.

And then there are black liberals, including some who don't even live in Maryland but have made it their mission to try to torpedo Steele's Senate bid. They include a left-wing blogger in New York who posted a doctored photo of Steele depicting him as a minstrel in blackface. Amid criticism, the photo was pulled. What remains, however, is a photo of Steele with an equally offensive caption calling him ``Simple Sambo.''

And lastly, there are those liberals and Democratic operatives who, while claiming not to defend such blatantly vulgar and distasteful tactics, go on to, well, defend them.

Maryland State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden says Steele should accept whatever personal attacks come his way. She also says that black voters are likely to be Steele's harshest critics because, as she puts it, ``party trumps race.''

Wow. Someone finally said it out loud. And I'm sure Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean and other Democrats will be delighted to hear it. Imagine all the outreach dollars earmarked for the black community that might now be spent pursuing white suburban soccer moms.

Party trumps race -- not to mention, common sense. Some African-American leaders complain that black people aren't getting anywhere politically. They're right. That's because they've perfected the recipe for how to become politically irrelevant -- allow yourself to be taken for granted by one party and written off by another.

Steele is a threat to the social order of things because he challenges all that. Because he stands with the GOP, he gives black Americans something that Democrats don't want them to have: options. And so, for those who prefer the status quo, the mission is clear: Steele must be discredited and his candidacy destroyed. He has to be painted as an aberration, or better yet, a sellout. That way, no self-respecting African-American will follow him to the GOP.

There's another part of this that is interesting. It used to be that African-Americans turned to the Democratic Party to protect them from discrimination and disenfranchisement. But when a black Republican comes along, African-Americans -- like that guy with the blog -- often return the favor and defend the Democratic Party as a major engine for black progress.

Democrats should be grateful for that. They can't afford too many of these kinds of firsts. Breakthroughs such as the Steele candidacy threaten the party's monopoly by showing black voters that they don't need to fall in line with the Democratic Party to be successful in politics or life.

Liberals want none of that. They're all for people making history -- as long those people are on their side of the aisle. They're all for minorities succeeding -- as long as they can claim credit for the success. And they're all for minorities becoming involved politically and voting -- as long as they continue to vote Democratic in perpetuity.

And if any of this doesn't go according to plan, then it's open season on anyone who gums up the works. Liberals think nothing of portraying blacks and other minorities who defect to the Republican Party as defective in some way.

A reader recently wrote that he was shocked that I, as a Mexican-American, would have anything nice to say about Republicans or the Bush administration because they had done so much harm to ``your people.''

What a condescending remark -- but what a useful example of liberal racism. Mention the words ``liberal'' and ''racism'' in one sentence in a classroom at one of the nation's most elite universities, and you'll get blank stares. For a lot of people on the left, the phrase is an oxymoron. They really don't seem to know what it means. How can liberals be racist? How can people dedicated to promoting tolerance be guilty of intolerance?

Ask Michael Steele. I bet he has a good grasp of the concept.

© 2005, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Ruben Navarrette Jr.

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