Steele, Back to Not Thinking About Policy
By Lee Hockstader
The Politico carried a scoop Monday reporting that GOP leaders told the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, to quit meddling in policy. The story is remarkable not only for its detailed depiction of top congressional Republicans slapping down their own party’s nominal leader, but also for the suggestion that Steele, never one to get his hands too dirty in actual substance, got burned for appearing to have done just that.
Before he got comfortable on the Sunday morning chat shows in his current job, Steele was famous mainly for having said, in the midst of his dismal, substance-averse and losing campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2006, that the race was “not about issues.” Being a senator from Maryland was really more about leadership style, according to Steele, who never met an issue he bothered to master -- or even read up on very closely. And now GOP leaders are commanding him to return to what he does best -- not thinking about policy.
His comment, in its inadvertent candor, was the most revealing thing Steele said during that campaign, in which he distinguished himself not so much as blindly ignorant about the issues as utterly disdainful of them. Pressed on virtually any subject -- energy, the environment, foreign affairs, health care -- his stock response was that he would get “all the players in the room” before deciding what to do. As The Post wrote at the time, the man would have made a great meetings coordinator.
As the Republican Party figurehead, however, Steele has attracted attention mainly for his knack for the bizarre remark, the unguarded comment and the wacky observation, all of which he glosses over with a back-slapping bonhomie that Republicans hope translates through the camera as charisma.
His titular position atop the GOP prompts journalists and others to treat him with a measure of deference that his actual achievements in life -- political and otherwise -- do not merit. Not long ago, for example, an interviewer for NPR prefaced a question by respectfully mentioning Steele’s long experience in public policy.
Well, not so much. As lieutenant governor of Maryland from 2003 to 2007, the only office to which he has been popularly elected, he accomplished exactly nothing. Even on his handpicked projects, his output was wafer-thin. For instance, he spent three years “studying” Maryland’s death penalty, only to produce a memo so lackluster and lacking in substance that it was not made public. He claimed to have made “historic improvements” in the state’s teacher pension system, but key lawmakers who carried the legislation said they never heard from him on the subject. Aides to then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a fellow Republican, bluntly regarded Steele as an empty suit; when his name was mentioned -- which was not often, since his contributions were so scant -- they would roll their eyes.
Over the summer, my colleague Dana Milbank caught Steele wandering briefly off his talking points on health-care reform, which had been scripted in detail by Republican message man Alex Castellanos, and into the quick sand of actual substance. Faced with actual questions from actual reporters, Steele quailed and bailed. “I don’t do policy,” he announced boldly.
But then, in a curious turn of events, Steele did do policy. In an op-ed for The Post in August, Steele outlined what he said were Republican principles on health care, including support for Medicare. Alas, his career as a policy wonk appears to have been short-lived. The Politico reported Monday that Steele was told to desist by top Republican leaders, who invited him to keep his policy pronouncements to himself from now on.
I suppose this means we’ll be back to the old Michael Steele -- long on platitudes and gauzy rhetoric, short on actual ideas and issues. Oh, well. But after all, it’s not about the issues. Remember?
| October 5, 2009; 2:37 PM ET
Categories: Hockstader | Tags: Lee Hockstader
Save & Share: Previous: High Court Showdown: Dogs, Guns and Sexual Predators
Next: 'Jack Squat' Obama
Posted by: jbharwada | October 5, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ravitchn | October 5, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: chris_holte | October 5, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: koolkat_1960 | October 5, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kubrickstan | October 5, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bigbrother1 | October 5, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: newbeeboy | October 5, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kare1 | October 5, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mm14 | October 5, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: vigor | October 5, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Scar1 | October 5, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Scar1 | October 5, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Julescator | October 5, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: esch | October 5, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ATLGuy | October 5, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: DCSage | October 5, 2009 7:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mandog | October 5, 2009 8:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ntlekt | October 5, 2009 10:57 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ceflynline | October 5, 2009 11:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: MUPPET | October 6, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jckdoors | October 6, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: StevG | October 6, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jtsiii | October 6, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: xconservative | October 8, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: rgplpc | October 10, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.