- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009


It’s one thing for a politician to have the popular touch, but it’s quite another for a leader who takes seriously the task of rebuilding a downtrodden party to go about preening before the paparazzi like a B-list actor on the comeback trail.

There’s no doubt newly minted Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele is a man who likes to be liked. So much so, in fact, that he insists on being everything to everyone. Sadly, he may end up being nothing to anyone.

The media spotlight he so desperately seeks becomes absolutely useless the minute he forgets his own lines … and starts reading from the Democratic Party’s script, such as recently when he crossed the lines in a GQ article by callously referring to the horror of abortion as “an individual choice.”

Undoubtedly, part of Mr. Steele’s problem (and partly the problem of the Republican Party at this juncture) is that he has sought to liken himself to President Obama. He indicated as much during his commentary at the State of the Black Union conference recently. After all, the president is so popular with growing voting demographics that he has become the envy of those on the outside looking in.

However, the mistake Mr. Steele has made is trying to bend the Republican Platform to Obama-like ideas, instead of crafting an original platform based on core Republican values and presenting it in a way that has Obama-like appeal. There’s a big difference between the two, and it seems to have been lost on Mr. Steele.

Believing himself a man of tempered mettle, he may think he can say just about anything and wriggle out of it if the audience turns against him. And it’s true that for far too long Mr. Steele has been allowed to just wing it. It’s as if he believes all he has to do is just talk loud and long enough and eventually he’ll end up saying the right thing. But in the world of the endless sound bite, one’s words can easily be quoted out of context. The odd slip of the tongue ends up being replayed over and over again. We all know Mr. Steele is articulate, but we’re beginning to figure out that he can also be quite verbose.

And that verbosity has resulted in a series of gaffes that have damaged Mr. Steele’s credibility, primarily because he’s always going around apologizing for one thing or another. After a while, however, you run out of excuses for the missed shots and flagrant fouls. At some point your teammates will just stop passing you the ball.

Mr. Steele is so cool, though. He is probably the only Republican Party leader that can get away with the term “bling” in public discourse. He urges a cultural makeover of the GOP in the image and likeness of Tupac Shakur. He fearlessly ventures into the “hood,” where other Republican leaders dare not tread, and lives to tell about it. Surely one cannot question the courageousness of this self-appointed godfather of suburban hip-hop.

That’s all fine and dandy except for the fact that whenever he reaches beyond the comforting clutches of fellow Republicans he comes off looking spineless.

“You didn’t have to go much further than the Republican National Convention,” CNN host D.L. Hughley argued, “it literally looked like Nazi Germany.”

“You’re right,” responded Mr. Steele, who was then rudely interrupted by fellow guest Chuck D of the rap group Public Enemy.

If Mr. Steele really believes that the Republican Convention looked like Nazi Germany, why did he even bother to show up? Could it be true that he believes he’s now the “de facto” leader of the Nazi party?

No one is seriously suggesting that Mr. Steele believes anything of the sort, but his overly accommodating stance in the face of confrontation has undoubtedly led to some rather compromising situations.

All of this leads to the obvious question: Mr. Steele, who are you, really?

Once you step off the stage after playing a liberal pro-choice activist one day, and a histrionic Nazi party infiltrator the next, what’s left of the real Mr. Steele? One thing’s for sure. No one since Proteus of Greek mythology has exhausted so many guises of identity. Perhaps in these slips of the tongue, Mr. Steele is offering us a set of clues as to his true identity as no one, secretly hoping he’ll be discovered. Perhaps, he acknowledges deep down inside that he is putting on an act such that, like the tragic Iago, he can legitimately claim, “I am not what I am.”

Despite all the miscues, it’s unlikely Mr. Steele’s days as party chairman will soon come to an end. The Republican Party can ill afford to endure an internecine war at this stage, as it attempts to gear up for state and national elections. And, after all, no one else seems to be stepping forward to take the party in a new direction.

Eventually, one hopes, he will grow weary of tedium and terror of being so many people all at once and exit the national stage. At that point he could retire to some small town, taking on the role of local impresario, keeping himself busy by minding his stock portfolio and teaching acting lessons at the local community center.

In the meantime, Mr. Steele should concern himself, not so much with crafting a new party platform (that may be a bit much to ask at this point), but with making sure his own glibness does not cause the party to regress any further. Rarely has the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm,” seemed so apropos.

• “The Armstrong Williams Show” is broadcast weeknights on XM Satellite Power 169 from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.



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