White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs got a few oohs and aahs in today's press conference, when responding to embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's recent claim that both he (Steele) and President Barack Obama have a "slimmer margin" for error because of the color of their skin.
I think that it is a very silly comment to make. I think Michael Steele's problem isn't the race card, it's the credit card.
Not to spoil a good one-liner, but:
1) What percentage of the people gleefully blogging and tweeting Gibbs' crack right now do you think have explained opposition to Obama and/or Tea Parties as a function of racism? Will they now disavow their previous comments as "very silly"? I kind of doubt it.
2) The slimmer-margin-for-error comment is considerably less grave and accusatory. I think Michael Steele (like every major party national chairman I can remember) is a jackass, but the notion that the first black executives in previously all-white positions have narrower wiggle-room is downright plausible, and certainly supported by the historical record in, say, sports (and, I'm guessing, boardrooms in general). Though we live in a much different country than even two decades ago on this stuff, the "first black" prefix can still, unfairly, be at least a mild factor in the way leaders are perceived.
3) I'm positive that the West Hollywood strip-club bombshell would have been a story under any circumstances, but as a matter of scale, a $1,946 credit card bill is slightly less scandalous to me than the $1.56 trillion credit-card charge in Obama's 2010 budget that my great-grand-offspring will likely be paying off.
4) All that said, Steele is doing himself no favors by bringing race into a discussion about corruption and strip clubs; and the White House continues to (both wisely and accurately, in my judgment) downplay the racial element in modern politics. I have no doubt that Obama's supporters will not, in this case, follow the president's lead.