Don't Mock GOP For Trying to Get Down with Hip-Hop

Enter the Wu-Tang RNC

It's real easy to mock new RNC Chairman Michael Steele's statement that he intends to expand the party by  reaching out to the "hip-hop" generation.

At worst, it sounds like the leader of a tragically un-hip party -- following an election when it looked more out-of-step than ever -- grasping at whatever sounds popular culture-ish.

At best, Steele risks looking like the older adult doing his best to seem like the "cool dad" who wants the kids to like him. (I'm also reminded of Chris Rock's line about the guy who's not exactly "old, " but just a little bit *too* old for the club.

On the other hand, this isn't some Johnny-Come-Lately stunt on Steele's part. He's demonstrated that he's wanted to modernize the GOP in terms of its relationship to pop culture for quite some time.

In 2004, then-Lt. Gov. Steele hosted one of the more popular parties (at least among younger GOPers) during the Republican National Convention -- at Jay-Z's 40/40 Club.

In 2006, during his run for the Senate, Steele got a strong endorsement from one of the Founding Fathers of hip-hop, Russell Simmons. (He was also endorsed by his former brother-in-law Mike Tyson, which admittedly might not have been one of the best, but, hey, you take what you can get).

While there is a "coolness" aspect to this, there is a legitmate reason for making this attempt. For one, polls show that -- even in the age of Obama - younger African Americans don't automatically align with the Democrats as their older peers did. While not automatically moving towards Republicans, they are more likely to identify and register as independent.

More importantly, individuals like Simmons, Jay-Z, P. Diddy, etc. have a much broader entrepreneurial sensibility about them than did previous generations of black entertainers and performers. Even comparing Simmons with, say, Berry Gordy, who founded Motown, Simmons sees the importance of expanding his creative pursuits beyond just music (or even film).

Steele might sound corny trying to marry the "family values" party with a culture that is seen by many traditional voters as violent and profane, but the economic successes and superstars that hip-hop has produced can't be denied.  It's not something that has to be "explained" to younger voters -- regardless of race. 

In short, don't sleep on Michael Steele and his new GOP crew.

Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots. 

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