Three African American politicians in Washington were in the news this week. The most prominent, of course, was President Obama. The other two, GOP national chairman Michael Steele and Rep. Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, would have preferred to be out of the newspapers, cable TV and the ever-present blogosphere.
Even with the carping of critics and second guessers, the president seems to be finding his way after only two months in office. The Republicans in Congress, and even some uneasy Democrats, are perplexed about the mammoth spending to help the sick economy. He claims it is necessary to restore jobs and confidence of consumers.
Obama's personal popularity in the polls remains high. If it continues he can overcome that anguish of fellow Democrats and the "no" creed of Republicans, especially in the House of Representatives.
Michael Steele, the first African-American to head his party's national committee, apparently wants to steer the GOP to a more moderate course after being shellacked in the last two elections. But he's already had to back down on two attempts.
First, Steele had to genuflect in front of Rush Limbaugh for going public with criticism of the GOP potentate. He could have stood his ground but looked weak with his quick apology. Then he got tangled up in words over his stand on abortion. He separated himself from the no abortions, no way crowd in the party and had to revise his words twice.
There is no way the GOP would want to remove the first African-American from his post as party chair. But the former lieutenant governor of Maryland is going to have follow a steadier script from the last few months.
Ms. Waters, who seems perpetually angry when she appears on TV or in the House, was caught up a conflict of interest story over her family's holdings in a California bank. The New York Times reported that Ms. Waters sought the help of then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to secure bail out money for the bank. The bank received some $12 million.
To no one's real surprise, Ms. Waters lashed out at the story and critics, explaining that she was always in the forefront of helping minorities in her Los Angeles district. Of course, she avoided addressing the appearance of conflict of interest. That can be almost as damaging to a member of Congress as a blatant conflict in today's hot house environment on ethics.
The president has been responsible for a renewed interest in electing African-Americans at all levels of government. He's done it with clarity and dignity. Steele and Ms. Waters will have to pick up their game to measure up to his level.