I liked Michael Steele. I really did. But that was then, and this is now.
Commentators like Rush Limbaugh are correct in saying that if Steele were a Democrat, he’d have been afforded some indeterminate number of rhetorical mulligans for his all-too-frequent idiotic remarks. Sorta like the walking gaffe-machine Joe “Big F’ing Deal” Biden, visitor of Indian-accented convenience stores, who for some reason gets to be one heartbeat away from the Presidency without giving anybody in the media too much heartburn. Or Obama, who visited all 57 states during the primary elections, and wants to “spread the wealth around”. Or the late Ted Kennedy’s “Osama Obama” remark (which somehow bizarrely got blamed on Rush Limbaugh) – or that time he killed that lady. Or Murtha. Or Kanjorski. And in those cases (and others), we’re talking about people in actual positions of elective power. Steele, on the other hand, has no power over anybody save RNC employees, and has only the money that private donors afford him.
So the attention being placed on Steele is disproportionate to his actual influence on events. Fair enough.
But I hold Republicans to a higher standard. I think that’s the whole idea behind thinking one political party is better than another. If we routinely overlook remarks by Steele, or Trent Lott’s comment about Strom Thurmond, etc., we lose the moral standing to criticize Democrats. I don’t want to play a hypocritical game of “they did it (too)”. I want clarity and certitude. Politics is not a sport, with team loyalty determined by chance and ephemera. Words and character matter.
As to the actual content of Steele’s remarks, I am appalled at the support he is getting from the likes of Ann Coulter, who previously would not have been caught dead supporting any aspect of Ron Paul’s foreign policy. The war in Afghanistan was no more “Obama’s war” than Iraq was “Bush’s war”. Both wars initially received broadly bipartisan support, and I believe Afghanistan continues to enjoy the support of at least most Republicans. Obama was not even yet a Senator when the US invaded Afghanistan. Afghanistan is even less Obama’s war than Iraq was Bush’s.
So in crucial respects, Steele’s comments were flat wrong. Moreover, they echo the idiotic rhetoric that came from the Left during the Bush years, making them sound all the more nakedly politicized and disingenuous.
Questions about whether we ought to be in Afghanistan – whether we should have gone in the first place, whether it’s still worth it to be there – do represent a legitimate point of view (one with which I vehemently disagree), but Steele is not in a policy making position. As a party leader he ought to stay clear of policy debates, particularly when he strays from the consensus Republican position.
And of course, Steele has made a number of asinine comments, the most ridiculous of which was the idea that he has been treated harshly for his gaffes because he was black.
I can only offer a partial rebuttal of Cynthia Tucker’s recent accusation made on ABC’s This Week that Steele was an affirmative action chairman. It is hardly worth denying that Steele’s race was a plus for his candidacy, but two things must be said about that.
Firstly, the controversy surrounding rival Katon Dawson’s previous membership in a racially exclusive country club surely weighed heavily on the minds of the RNC membership when the contest narrowed to the last run-off. How could Republicans elect a person with such a history (unknowing or not) over somebody who would not have been allowed to join Dawson’s country club because of the color of his skin? Dawson, regardless of his merits, should have disqualified himself early on. Perhaps Saul Anuzis might have been elected.
Secondly, it’s not as though Steele was without his own qualifications. He had been Maryland’s elected Lt. Governor. He had run a law practice. And he had been chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. In short, he had more executive experience than Barack Obama. Steele wasn’t plucked from obscurity because he gave a good speech once or twice and happened to be black – he had come up through the GOP farm system and paid a lot of dues along the way.
But he hasn’t done the job he was elected to do, and worse yet, he makes excuses for his own incompetence. Steele’s continued presence at the RNC is bad for the RNC. For that reason, if for no other, he should resign.