Michael Steele

January 30, 2009

So the battle for GOP chairman came down to former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele, and African-American, and Katon Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina GOP, who is white (there are not many African-Americans in the South Carolina GOP, to say the least). Steele won on the sixth ballot. Obviously (is it so wrong??) I was hoping that the Republicans would pick the ultra-Conservative Southern white guy, sticking with long tradition, and continue their journey toward becoming a regional political party for Evangelical Southern whites. Dawson certainly had GOP street cred in this respect – he was, until last year (meaning 2008, the year that ended 30 days ago), a member of an all-white country club. He resigned from the club in August, claiming that he suddenly discovered, THAT SAME YEAR, that the club excluded blacks from membership.

Steele is no rising star himself, but Republicans beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to elevating token African-Americans. Here’s how Alex Koppelman describes Steele (and I think he is being charitable):

“On other fronts, though, Steele’s a questionable choice. He hasn’t displayed a ton of political acumen — he’s won elected office only once, and he didn’t head that ticket. He lost the aforementioned Senate race, and, before that, couldn’t even win a GOP primary for state comptroller; he placed third, in fact. His tenure as head of the Maryland party wasn’t brilliant, either, and he repeatedly had trouble recruiting candidates. (In his defense, it’s not easy to be a Republican in the state.) Along the way, he’s made some serious missteps: He got in trouble in 2006 for making some unguarded remarks disparaging then-President Bush to a group of reporters. His name was supposed to be kept off the comments, but when it quickly became obvious who was responsible, Steele tried to lie his way out of the gaffe. Also in 2006, he attracted unwanted attention when, speaking before a Jewish group, he compared stem cell research to medical tests that the Nazis conducted on prisoners during the Holocaust. The GOP better hope this victory is a sign that he’s learned some hard lessons –he already has a tough fight ahead of him in trying to win over the party’s conservative wing, which doesn’t fully trust him because of his membership in the more moderate Republican Leadership Council.”

Here’s what the Washington Post had to say about him when he ran (unsuccessfully) for the Senate in 2006:

“Despite his efforts to construct an image as an independent-minded newcomer, there is nothing in Mr. Steele’s past — no achievement, no record, no evidence and certainly no command of the issues — to support it. Pressed on energy or the environment, health care or North Korea, he tells reporters that he would get ‘all the players in the room.’ That sounds fine but means nothing; he’s running to be a senator, not a meetings coordinator. He proposes a list of big-ticket spending programs but offers no convincing idea about how they might be paid for. He knocks special-interest politics but is flush with campaign cash thanks to a team of GOP lobbyists.

Unsurprisingly in a heavily Democratic state, he doesn’t always follow the standard Republican playbook. But as more light has been shed on Mr. Steele’s slight experience in government, it has become clearer just how ineffectual he has been.

As lieutenant governor, Mr. Steele had at best a marginal impact, even on his handpicked projects. He spent three years studying the death penalty but produced only a memo that has not been made public. In his campaign literature, Mr. Steele took credit for working with legislators to achieve ‘historic improvements’ in the state’s teacher pension system. But the lead lawmaker on the pension bill, state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Howard), bluntly told The Post’s Ann E. Marimow: ‘I never heard from him.'”

But at least the GOP rejected the Southern white racist for an African-American from a state that not part of the Confederacy. This is a huge step forward by GOP standards.

Of course, nobody’s going to fall for it.

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