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Monday, February 2, 2009

The Scarlet Lette-R

Ken Kerr Bio

Yesterday, I attended a lecture by Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy at the Center for Excellence in Jackson Missisippi. He was in attendance to talk to a group of Phi Theta Kappa Faculty Scholars. Kennedy was discussing his recent book, Sellout.

Kennedy’s central hypothesis is that all groups suffer from “betrayal anxiety.” We all fear that a close confidant, a friend, a partner, will sell-us-out for personal or financial gain. As a nation, we were founded on betrayal anxiety, according to Kennedy. He pointed out that the only crime specified in the US Constitution is treason: the most extreme form of selling out.

In the course of his lecture, he focused on the book’s most detailed chapter: Clarence Thomas. The case for Thomas’ betrayal is that he abandoned his race by marrying a white woman. He benefitted from affirmative action and then voted against it. Rather than help his race, his conservative political views condemn many black Americans to live in poverty and desperation. Worst of all, the sellout accusations go, he does the white man's bidding.

Kennedy disagrees. While Kennedy admits to disagreeing with Thomas on political issues, he argues that Thomas’ career on the Court does not amount to “selling out.” Kennedy’s careful analysis of Thomas’ opinions shows that he does no one's bidding and certainly not that of Antonin Scalia—as many critics claim. While Kennedy finds much fault with Justice Thomas, he does not find him to be a sellout.

Following the lecture, I went up to Dr. Kennedy and suggested a candidate for sellout: Michael Steele.

Kennedy quickly disagreed with me. Steele is not a traitor to the black race, he insisted. His political views may not toe-the-line for African American concerns, but he finds the man to he honest and consistent—certainly not a classic sellout. Kennedy pointed to Steeles law degree and “certainly, he had a successful law career and did not need to sell out to make a living.”

I pointed out that Steele had not passed the Maryland Bar. His career limped along until he was near insolvency when the Maryland GOP asked him to run for Lt. Governor with (last week’s column topic) Bob Ehrlich. Steel agreed after negotiating $1250-a-week salary. If that does not fit the rhetorical definition of “sellout,” I argued, it certainly meets the literal. Kennedy said he was not aware of those aspects of Steel’s career.

I didn’t even get to metion the Oreo Cookie incident at my alma matter, Morgan State University, that was a blatant attempt at race-baiting.

So now, in a Palinesque move, Steele is the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. One must really ask: What exactly qualifies Steele to lead the GOP? Alex Koppelman of summarizes Steele’s not-so-illustrious career. “He graduated from Johns Hopkins University and then got a law degree from Georgetown University, true. That said, though, he initially flunked out of Hopkins, and while he did pass the bar in Pennsylvania, he failed it in Maryland. His record as a businessman wasn't stellar, either. A consulting firm he founded never turned a profit, and was a serious drain on his finances. Shortly after he began his run for lieutenant governor, Steele ran into trouble because of a $25,000 loan his sister had given to his campaign for comptroller that he'd never paid back. Then, there were revelations of an additional $35,000 in personal debt, as well as more than $100,000 he'd taken out of two retirement accounts in order to support his family, leaving a balance of less than $600 at the time the news broke. He suffered further embarrassment over his finances when it was revealed that the Republican Party was paying him a consulting fee of $5,000 a month during his campaign for lieutenant governor.”

Add to that a lack-luster term as Lt. Governor, a failed Senate bid, and a recurring stint as a Fox News Contributor. Not surprisingly, Steele’s first interview after being elected RNC Chair was with Sean Hannity of Fox News—for whom Steele often fills in for on Hannity’s “news” program.

So now, at the head of the conservative party in the United States, we have a man who once, according to a John Dickerson article, “said the R for Republican next to his name was like a ‘scarlet letter.’ He went on to say the GOP-controlled Congress should ‘just shut up and get something done,’ that the Iraq war ‘didn't work’ and ‘we didn't prepare for the peace,’ that the response to Hurricane Katrina was ‘a monumental failure of government.’ He said having his party leader President Bush campaign for him would be a disadvantage.”

On second thought, maybe Steele is not the sellout—the Republican Party is.

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