A black chairman isn’t enough

A BLACK CHAIRMAN ISN’T ENOUGH…. The New York Times has a front-page item this morning on the possibility of the Republican National Committee naming an African American as the party’s chairman. As the party hopes to “avoid shrinking into a party of Southern white men in an increasingly diverse country,” the selection would seem to have symbolic value, at a minimum.

The six candidates are four white men, including two from the South, and two black men: Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, and J. Kenneth Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state…. Some Republicans argued that electing a black chairman could prove helpful as the party struggles to rebuild.

“Race is not a consideration of why a person should become chairman of the R.N.C., but if the nation can celebrate its first African-American president, I would certainly think the Republican Party could celebrate its first African-American chairman,” said Jim Greer, the Florida Republican chairman, who endorsed Mr. Steele last week. “There certainly is an advantage of a credible message of inclusion if you have a minority as chairman.”

The presence of Mr. Steele and Mr. Blackwell has added some historical resonance to a contest that is usually viewed as a matter of inside baseball. Party officials said this was the first time two serious black candidates had competed for the Republican chairmanship.

Sure, “historical resonance” is interesting, as far as it goes, but the notion that an African-American chairman “could prove helpful” is much harder to believe.

It’s reminiscent of the superficiality of the RNC’s new-found interest in technology. Candidates for the RNC chairmanship seem to believe they can create a few Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, and the kids will swoon. Likewise, some in the party seem to think that electing Steele or Blackwell will help make the party appear more inclusive and diverse, and help with minority outreach.

This isn’t a strategy for success. For one thing, the modern Republican Party’s problems with race are systemic, and won’t be resolved by the race of its national party chair. For that matter, the GOP’s structural problems — its ideas are unpopular, its policies have failed, and its agenda is out of sync with the nation’s needs — are so deep, “historical resonance” is largely inconsequential.

But perhaps most importantly, no one should exaggerate the significance of the RNC chair. A couple of years ago, Bush tapped Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, a Cuban-American, as chairman of the RNC. Refresh my memory: did that have any impact whatsoever on outreach to Latino voters? Did it make the party seem more inclusive and diverse?

I don’t think so.