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Steele reignites ‘socialist’ conflict with RNC

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2009

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele reverted Sunday to opposing moves by some RNC members to label Democrats as "socialists," despite having himself used that term within the past few weeks.

In his Sunday appearance on "Meet the Press," Mr. Steele criticized a resolution calling on the Democratic Party to rename itself the Democrat Socialist Party, which is expected to be debated and voted on Wednesday at a special RNC meeting at National Harbor in Maryland.

Mr. Steele first resisted the resolution, but then began using the term "socialist" to describe President Obama and the Democrats himself.

In discussing Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's abrupt switch from Republican to Democrat, Mr. Steele said on CNN's "Newsroom" on April 28: "President Obama's spending package, you know, the $780 billion in the stimulus and the budget, made [Mr. Specter] realize he's a Democrat."

"Well, if spending the hard-earned dollars of the American people and redistributing their wealth and moving towards a collectivist socialist approach to government, if that helps you realize you're a Democrat, then, you know, good riddance," Mr. Steele concluded.

But asked Sunday by "Meet the Press" moderator David Gregory whether he thinks Mr. Obama "is a socialist leader," Mr. Steele said, "I think President Obama is a leader, and that's all that matters to me. I don't get into the name-calling and all the other rhetoric that attends these things."

Mr. Gregory then reminded Mr. Steele about the resolution, to which Mr. Steele responded: "I've been very clear that I don't think that that is an appropriate way to express our views on the issues of the day."

A sponsor of the "socialist" resolution said later Sunday that he saw positive signs in Mr. Steele's "Meet the Press" response and hinted at a possible compromise.

"As I understand it, Chairman Steele's objection is not to identifying many of the Obama administration's policies as socialist, as he has done himself several times, but to the final paragraph of the resolution asking for the Democratic Party to rename itself the Democrat Socialist Party," James Bopp Jr. of Indiana told The Washington Times.

"I consider this a tactical issue on which conservatives can reasonably disagree," said Mr. Bopp, who is RNC vice chairman.

The appearance was Mr. Steele's first televised face-to-face encounter with Democratic National Committee Chairman Gov. Tim Kaine. The two men clashed over abortion, with Mr. Steele saying that Mr. Obama's pro-choice stance made it inappropriate for the University of Notre Dame to bestow an honorary law degree on the president.

Mr. Gregory cited a new Gallup Poll that 51 percent of Americans say they are "pro-life" and only 42 percent say they are "pro-choice" - the first time a majority in the United States has identified itself that way since Gallup began asking the question in 1995.

Mr. Kaine said he is personally pro-life but supports his party's pro-choice platform, a stance Mr. Steele criticized as "two-faced."