Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Michael Steele a Legacy of Missed Opportunity - Then and Now

Defiant and dismissive of criticism until the end, Michael Steele's tenure as Republican Party Chairman came to a screeching, if not unexpected halt in January. It was an interesting, if not aggravating ride. It was one of accomplishment, but accomplishment which in the end did not fulfill the promise of a real new beginning for American politics.

I think the country could have used an 'anti-Obama' if you will. Not because I think there is anything wrong with our President. Not even because I'm sympathetic to all of the GOP agenda. When sober, responsible Republicans speak, they generally have something to say that the country should listen to. Basically, that there is more than one way to look at our challenges and our future. Call it small government, an emphasis on the individual, the role of business in the growth of our economy and support of other nations in their aspirations to experience some measure of the democratic freedoms and economic security with which our nation is blessed. I get most of that (although not always in the ways espoused by some Republican politicians).

Steele had the chance to reflect those principles in ways that were responsible and respectable...and he didn't.
He had the opportunity to translate those principles to African-Americans in a way that presented us with a real choice in our electoral politics...and he didn't. He had an opportunity to challenge the GOP in real and substantive ways to become more inclusive and more sensitive to the needs of the poor and the disconnected...and he didn't.

Instead, Michael Steele decided to placate a wing of the party that chose to voice unreasonable anger and impotent rage. He failed to challenge his party to disassociate itself from the 'radical fringe' which kept showing up at rallies and either identified themselves with or got identified with the Republican Party. And he failed to call to account Republican politicians who pandered to that fringe. 

Steele could have challenged Rush Limbaugh and FOX News in their attempts to shape the public image of conservatism. He could have pushed the loyal opposition party to come up with a better health care plan; a better stimulus plan; a real immigration plan...none of which is antithetical to the need to raise money, identify new candidates and drive home the Republican brand in ways that present an alternative...a real the party in power. He did none of those things. 

Now, the Republicans have a majority in Congress. It was supposed to be a mandate. But their first order of business were vapid and vain attempts to 'repeal' a health care plan that at least half of the country is willing to give a chance. An extremist element among that party that threatens either gridlock in Congress or within the party itself as they cast themselves as true believing ideologues. And a party which was able to attract maybe one true politician capable of serious national appeal - Marco Rubio of Florida.

Michael Steele is an intelligent man, with an engaging personality and an apparently amazing sense of humor. But, Steele failed at his job. He didn't fail because he didn't raise enough money, get enough people elected, or make enough news. He failed because he didn't understand his opportunity. He didn't realize that he was actually chosen for the same reason the Vice-Presidential candidate on the GOP ticket was chosen in 2008: Democrats had a rock star, GOP needed a rock star. Democrats had a black man at the head of its party, the GOP needed one at the head of its party. It was cynical, but, OK. Steele had the chance to take a position, granted in cynicism and become a figure of historic significance, rather than the answer to a trivia question. He chose the latter. He could have been a statesman; he chose to be a celebrity.

Even now, without the portfolio of office, Steele has the chance to do all of the things he could have done as Chairman of the GOP. His largest ambition: TV punditry. At least he's being consistent: he's never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. 

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