By electing Michael Steele as its new national chairman late this afternoon, the Republican party did well for itself. Steele is an African-American from blue-state Maryland who has worked with moderates, assailed the GOP's recent failures, and stressed the party's need to reach out beyond its conservative base. He'll raise the morale of those Republicans who have been yearning for a sharp break with the past, although it remains to be seen whether he is fully embraced by the party's vocal religious-right constituency (among other things, Steele has opposed writing a gay marriage ban into the U.S. Constitution).
Steele, who plays well on TV (although now, presumably, he'll need to give up his gig as a Fox News contributor), will face daunting challenges; for starters, he has to bring the party up to speed on technology, and demonstrate that he can raise serious money for the key '09 races (gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia) and the 2010 congressional races. But, for now at least, his ascendence signals that the party isn't wedded to the status quo.
As one morale barometer, here is former GOP congressman/academician/author Mickey Edwards, writing late today on Politico:
"It has been hard to be enthused about the Republican Party - anti-intellectual, nativist, narrow, reactive rather than creative, unconcerned about constitutional violations. Those who claim the party has become the private fiefdom of Rush Limbaugh and other brain-dead airheads have certainly had policies and pronouncements to support their arguments (although, to be fair, the case is somewhat exaggerated). But now there is reason for long-time Republicans (count me in that category) to have hope. Michael Steele is bright, enthusiastic, thoughtful, inclusive. His election as party chairman signals that maybe, just maybe, the party leaders 'get it'; that they understand why the nation turned against them, and that they are willing to become creative partners in the task of national problem-solving. Simply put, this is the best I've felt about the Republican Party - my party - in years."