the very odd fellow, Michael Steele, and his descent from a less embarrassing recent past

The problem with Barack Obama’s jab at Michael Steele is the problem of taking jabs at self-parodies. The most recent Steele-ism, heard here:

This crazy nonsense, `empathetic.` I`ll give you empathy, empathize right on your behind. Craziness.

What do you do with this? Well, here’s Obama:

Michael Steele is in the House tonight. Or, as he would say: In the heezy. WASSUP?

Overall, I find Michael Steele just a little perplexing. Why is he doing this? When I first learned about a “Michael Steele”, he was running for the Senate in Maryland in 2006. The New York Times Magazine had a story during that summer which focused on him and his run as a key part of a Republican strategy in slicing the 90 percent black vote for Democrats, a component of Karl Rove’s “Permanent Republican Majority” — this at a time when Bush’s approval ratings amongst Blacks was down to a stunning 2 percent, in the wake of Katrina. But Steele expressed himself well, saying that he was weary of being a tokenistic candidate and only ran if he thought he could do so on his own merits, self-conciously “Republican who happens to be African American” as opposed to the black Republican.

A few months later, Republican fortunes were dipping badly, sliding into the abyss. Here, Steele sent out an anonymous message to the media saying that the “R for Republican next to his name was like a ’scarlet letter’”. It was a stunt of sorts, the anonymity cracked by anyone paying the remotest attention to these things — me, for instance. It was an attempt at putting up electoral distance from the failing party, and a level of awareness he has dropped in his tenure as RNC Chair.

Whatever the case, he wasn’t dropping out-dated hip-hop slang — which, current slang would sound out-dated from anyone over the age of, say, 25. Actually, he was ginning up stories malicious racial attacks on himself from black liberals. But that manufactured story at least can be explained in terms of politics. Michael Steele’s current contrivances is just sort of baffling — as though somebody in charge looked over at him, saw that he was black, saw that the young people were voting Democratic and believed they listened to a lot of hip hop, and provided Steele with specific instructions that his job was to tap into that hip hop demographic, without any clear designation of what that would even mean.

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