One finger pointed, other fingers pointing back

Lenny McAllister Contributor
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Truly, if you think about it for a second, isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

With acknowledgment to Alanis Morissette’s classic, there is certainly a tinge of irony — and even short-sightedness and hypocrisy — in the dynamic going on in the major political parties as they scramble to explain away any shortcomings before November. Less than two years ago, both President Obama and RNC Chairman Michael Steele — the proverbial heads of the major parties — were championed by Democrats and Republicans respectively as signs that both parties were changing for the better.

For Democrats, the Obama victory in 2008 was supposed to mark a turning point, as the then-popular president-elect supposedly ushered in a new wave of loyal Democratic voters. For Republicans, the Steele victory signaled a change within the RNC, a stark acknowledgment that “business as usual” was not going to lead to long-term electoral victories as America’s demographics continued to change. Now, both parties are backing away from their “magic negroes” (the term that was used as a slur against Obama and later helped to eliminate some of Steele’s competition in the race for RNC Chair) and using them as scapegoats.  The weaknesses of the Obama administration are now coming back to haunt Democrats as the most visible and charismatic Democratic speaker in a generation is now one of the most polarizing American politicians in recent memory.  For Republicans, Steele’s reign at the RNC has been encumbered with controversy and distractions that have often taken away from the positive things that this former lieutenant governor and senatorial candidate has delivered to a party in sore need of relevancy with at-large voters.

However, for all of the finger-pointing at these two men, there are also fingers pointing back at their own camps. In many ways, the results that Obama and Steele’s supporters expected have been skewed. Granted, both leaders have provided plenty of fodder for their critics. From clumsy verbal gaffes to unnecessary political missteps, both men have been less than perfect, in contrast to the “perfect remedy” mantra that they entered office with; (Obama as the “post-partisan, post-racial” president; Steele as the antidote to the media-friendly, “new school” Obama.) Yet, their own camps have been very active in sabotaging their efforts.

For Democrats, expectations that the Obama Train from 2008 would keep going should have been lowered the moment the White House trusted the Congressional Democratic leadership with its domestic agenda. For a centrist candidate, the move quickly made Mr. Obama a very partisan president. From big spending solutions that have yet to bring down unemployment to allowing the left wing of the Democratic Party to dictate terms of legislative processes and results, President Obama has had his potential effectiveness stymied by the work of Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid. Further, Obama’s ability to smoothly address tough issues (as he did in 2008 and 2009) has been eroded by the left’s mismanaged spin-meistering of the Tea Party movement. As people within the administration (such as Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano) and within the party (such as Pelosi) continued to cast Tea Partiers as right-wing extremists in the vein of the late Timothy McVeigh, the president’s ability to respond with the Teflon-like demeanor he possessed during the 2008 campaign chipped away. The mosque controversy this summer and unnecessary sidebars such as the 2009 Beer Summit haven’t helped the president, to say the least, but moves by his Democratic “supporters” have undermined his popularity as well.

Much of the same can be said about Michael Steele, who was drafted to be a game-changer in the wake of Obama’s election. Many Republicans have not been able — or, in some cases, willing — to acquiesce to a new type of RNC leader. Picked to help diversify the GOP’s voting base, Steele has not received much support in attacking “the elephant in the room” — Republicans and race. His unnecessary (but accurate) criticisms of Rush Limbaugh’s oft-incendiary rhetoric were enough to have Republicans calling for his resignation only weeks into his tenure, a move that lacked the foresight of acknowledging that Steele’s criticisms actually addressed some of the very barriers that prevent many voters (including young voters and minority voters) from voting for Republicans. Republican angst over the Tea Party movement in 2009 detracted from Steele’s efforts to forge a partnership between the GOP and the growing Tea Party movement. Steele’s comments on making the GOP more “hip hop friendly” were mocked by many (including some Republicans), while racial insensitivity from Republicans like Sarah Palin, who supported Dr. Laura Schlessinger after Schlessinger repeatedly used the N-word on her radio show, undermined Steele’s efforts to diversify the party. With the emergence of women candidates (e.g., Nikki Haley, Jan Brewer and Susana Martinez) and minority candidates (e.g., Tim Scott, Ryan Frazier, Allen West, and Stephen Broden), the GOP is in a different place than it was before Steele became RNC chair, even if many wrongly believe that the party has become more diverse in spite of Steele.  The high-profile mishaps within the RNC have often fallen at Steele’s feet, but so, too, do some of the impending victories coming in November, even in spite of missteps by his Republican “supporters.”

Granted, American politics is a “what have you done for me lately” blood sport these days — much to Americans’ dismay. However, for every ball Obama and Steele have dropped, there have been plenty of droppings left at their feet by their teammates that have helped make a mess of the promises they entered office with.

Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the author of the upcoming edition of the book, “Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative): The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010).” Follow him at www.twitter.com/lennyhhr and on Facebook at www.tinyurl.com/lennyfacebook.