The Washington Times - July 14, 2009, 12:38PM

OPINION/ANALYSIS

As Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (first Hispanic nominee) sucks up all the air for her confirmation hearings today another political party “first” was making news at the NAACP’s 100th annual convention in New York (or at least trying to.)

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While Sotomayor was “inspiring them to believe,” RNC Chairman Michael Steele (the party’s first black chairman) decided to:

“[D]epart from the complete Republican’s guide to speaking to African Americans.”

He mocked his white predecessors for the “litany of phrases often cut and paste into a speech to this organization” and forged ahead with his own version of how the oldest civil rights organization should be addressed.

Steele cited quotes from Democrats (no Republicans) Thurgood Marshall and JFK and statistics about too many black babies born disadvantaged by birth weight. He pointed out what we’ve all known for some time - black unemployment, dropout, incarceration and infection rates are dismal - with no mention of a solution. Instead of a departure from the past, it was more of the same (with one exception, noted below.)

If the Republican chairman wants to pickup where his predecessors left off and then dropped off by making more inroads with minority and disadvantaged communities, he had a prime opportunity to lead but missed it. Offering recommendations over rhetoric, is a better start. We all know what the problems are. Like President Obama, Steele relishes taking pot shots at past leadership with speeches that lack substance and significant policy recommendations, when all Americans want are solutions and someone who will actively advocate for them. As a “proud member of the Prince George’s county chapter of the NAACP,” Steele should have walked in there with a clear plan of action. One that would have had buy in from NAACP leadership before he took to the stage. A framework or next steps roadmap to take away, as the two “step together in a new partnership.”

Sadly, it was nothing new. Instead, like many Republicans before him, Steele allowed the NAACP to use his address as another opportunity to say “see we invited the Republicans, we covered our bases, we’re bipartisan,” when their actions say otherwise. 

But there was one welcome exception to the otherwise stale speech: Steele did ask, for the first time, what other Republicans have failed to. Where is the NAACP’s inclusiveness, what will it do to be more inclusive to the black conservatives in its ranks? And while the GOP has been more than willing to take those “baby steps,” with the organization in recent years, Steele questioned:

“will the NAACP be willing to do the same?”

And that is the million dollar question. Rather than trot a few conservatives out on stage from time to time, how will the NAACP move the discussion forward? Or better yet, begin to consider alternative views to its “issues?” And incorporate some of them? (These are questions I have been asking for years.)

Will the organization finally acknowledge in its annual congressional “Report Card” that most black parents support school choice and add charter schools to the categories for which it grades members of Congress? Grades in which mostly all the Republican members are given “F’s” and are based on a set of pre-selected “issues” it deems priorities to the black community. They are no doubt, priorities for some, but not all and are generally decided without input from black leaders (and members) like Steele. So, will Steele now actively advocate for, at the very least, some of those common ground issues between the GOP and the NAACP? Will the NAACP step up to Steele’s challenge? I was still awaiting their response to my query at deadline.

In addition, Steele must not simply seek to “partner” with the NAACP, if that’s what he insists is needed, but “partner” with conservatives activists and Republican members of Congress who are already working in their states to implement initiatives that address the needs of their minority and disadvantaged constituents. (And yes, there members like that, who you won’t hear about in the MSM.) The danger would be for him to presume that being the “black man” of the party makes up for being inclusive to minorities already in the party. And that’s been one of the party’s past failures - alienating many its own for the sake of gaining a few from the other side.

While Steele’s remarks may have gained him a few more brownie points with the NAACP, he would do well to heed the words of Sotomayor today:

“[No] ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judgement.”

-Tara Wall is a news anchor and political analyst at The Washington Times and editor of TheConservatives.com.