- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

The Michael Steele Smear Tour rolls on. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean was asked by host Tim Russert about his thoughts on racist comments that members of his party have made about Mr. Steele, Maryland’s lieutenant governor and Republican senatorial candidate.

Said Mr. Dean: “Look, the Republicans have a long history of saying those things happened. And they may or may not have. If that happened, it’s not right. But I didn’t hear [Republican National Committee Chairman] Ken [Mehlman] condemning the chairman of the Maryland [Republican] Party when he called me an anti-Semite.”

As deflections go, this one is acutely disingenuous, especially since Mr. Dean is the head of the Democratic Party and, moments earlier on the show, blamed Republicans for not doing enough to save blacks in New Orleans. The chairman’s “everybody-does-it” argument simply doesn’t pass here, and not just because Maryland’s Republican Party Chairman John Kane has never called Mr. Dean an anti-Semite. The ugly truth is that Democratic attacks on Mr. Steele have not been politics as usual; they have targeted Mr. Steele specifically for being black. Maryland Delegate Salima Siler Marriott has defended the racist slurs because Mr. Steele’s “politics are not in the best interest of the masses of black people.” Two prominent Maryland Democrats — Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan — have condoned this egregious race-baiting by refusing to condemn it.

Mr. Dean blew a perfect moment for the chairman of the party to set the record straight, call his troops into line and do the right thing. His use of the conditional — “if that happened, it’s not right” — was a not-so-clever way to avoid condemning his fellow Democrats without appearing to condone racist slurs.

There is no “if”. Mr. Steele has been called “Uncle Tom”; he has been pelted with Oreo cookies; he has been portrayed as a minstrel clown; and two staffers in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is headed by Sen. Charles Schumer, illegally obtained his credit report. Had Republicans engaged in such tactics, Mr. Dean surely would be out front condemning them in his now-famous screaming voice — and we would be cheering him on.

Refreshingly, Virginia Gov.-elect Tim Kaine and former Democratic congressman Kweisi Mfume have bucked their party and criticized the Steele smears. Where are the others on the national scene? This is an issue that only Democrats can put behind them, if more can be found with the courage Mr. Dean obviously lacks.

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