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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?

By Lee Hockstader  | October 5, 2009; 2:37 PM ET
Categories:  Hockstader  | Tags:  Lee Hockstader  
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Good piece of investigative jouranlism.

A 'come to Jesus' moment for MS.

Posted by: jbharwada | October 5, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

How did a man this stupid, this inept, this obnoxious get to be lieutenant governor of Maryland and then GOP chairman? I guess it is a matter of race. But the blacks won't vote Republican just because a dumb black is nominal party leader.

Posted by: ravitchn | October 5, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

There is an expression "dog faced." It's not literal. It means people who appear to be leading but actually have an iron chain around their neck. They enthusiastically run ahead until their owner yanks their chain.

Poor Mr. Steele. He's in the wrong party.

Posted by: chris_holte | October 5, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

He got to be lieut. gov. of MD because he looks good in a suit and the job has ZERO official duties. NONE, ZIP, ZILCH, NADA.

As for chair of the RNC, I think you nailed it. The GOP loves putting black people in visible positions. Actually casting votes for black people, not so much.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | October 5, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure if Michael Steele knows this or not, but he is "racial quota," black guy the republicans use to try to convince American's they are not racist. Had Hillary Clinton been President, Michael Steele would never have been there spokesman. Michael Steele is an idiot and a sucker.

Posted by: kubrickstan | October 5, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Excellent piece. Tightly written, pointed and well supported with facts. Plus it acknowledges what everybody knows but nobody else at the Post (e.g. that hack Cillizza) will admit: Steele is a non-entity and a non-leader, especially to Republicans. Nobody expects him to lead the party, and he lives up those expectations.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | October 5, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I think it should read...
'Steele, Back to Not Thinking.' .. the about policy is redundant.

Posted by: newbeeboy | October 5, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Steele quailed and bailed. “I don’t do policy,” he announced boldly.

HA HA HA HA I don't think any REPUBLICAN really does policy - at least the policy of saying NO to anything and everything.

Posted by: kare1 | October 5, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Michael Steele is almost as stupid, inept, and obnoxious as Sarah Palin. But not nearly as idiotic as Dan Quayle. If only he were white, the right-wingers would nominate him for President in 2012 because he understands "us" "plumber joes"

Posted by: mm14 | October 5, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

This is another fine reason illustrating that the Republican Party is in no position to lead this great nation.

Since when is a political race "not about issues'"?

The leader of the Republican Party 'doesn't do policy'.

it's quite obvious.

This is getting absurdly ridiculous.

Can't the GOP find an adult in their midst?

Posted by: vigor | October 5, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Now this is even funnier-AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! They are actually telling Steele to sit down and shut up-OMG!!!

So, hope he has a real clue he is not in charge but, a figurehead so they can get that vote but, Steele isn't doing the job they want him to do. Funny! Every time he opens his mouth they just freak. What did he say? No, we cannot have this-wrong policy for "Old GOP" logic of dirt and grime.

Now that is so funny-hated in his own country. Man that is bad. Steele come to the Dem side of things-wasting time with that bunch.

And Scar1 listen to ya-you got spunk-give ya that and you do have a brain-just don't waste it on that-please!!!

Damn! that is just funny-yes it is. Does Steele actually think he is in charge-poor dear. Somebody talk to this guy, please enlighten him. Anybody? Tom Joyner; Steve Harvey; Roland Martin; James Carville; Jesse Jackson Sr. & Jr.; NAACP; Black Panthers; Nation of Islam--help this child please!!

Posted by: Scar1 | October 5, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha...have mercy-I am still laughing. Poor baby-give Dems some love.
We will take ya in. Hate to see homeless political type of people. GOP just no love for ya-got it?

Ya know-I don't think he does-again pray for him.

Posted by: Scar1 | October 5, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Can't the Republicans find a competent Negro. This is really embarrassing! In their zest to get their very own "Obama" they actually got Kanye West!!!! lol lol

Posted by: Julescator | October 5, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Steele has done a better job as head of the RNC than I thought he would; he has done as well as many in that position have previously done.

He is the only hope of broadening the party's base.

Posted by: esch | October 5, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

All Republicans are talking in idealized tones about what needs to be done rather than giving specific suggestions on how to do it. They have no ideas, no values and no shame. What a joke!

Posted by: ATLGuy | October 5, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Republicans really hate Michael Steele. They didn't like him when they made him chairman of the RNC and they don't like him now. Steele doesn't do anything for republicans who are whipped into a race frenzy over the first African American President of the United States.

Republicans in general are hostile to any interest of African Americans and republicans don't like the sight of their token Michael Steele.

African Americans see Steele as Mike Tyson's brother in-law and Clarence Thomas with a big mouth and a loud pin stripe suit.

Steele was elected Leutenant Governor of Maryland with a large African American vote based on people not knowing who he really was. They know who he is now, and Steele, after currying favor with the likes of John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh, couldn't win an election for rat catcher.

Steele is like an anvil around the necks of the GOP and telling him to keep his nose out of republican party policy is just the first step in the waterboarding a good boy who just wants to be accepted.

Posted by: DCSage | October 5, 2009 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Do you always refer to party chairmen being "slapped down?" Or did you use that just for Mr. Steele because he's, well, you know

Posted by: mandog | October 5, 2009 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I hope Steele stays RNC Chairman for as long as possible...Just like I wanted Palin in the forefront of McCain's campaign as long as possible. It just helps Democrats and their pursuits.

Thanks, Sell-Out... uh, I mean, "Brother" Steele.

Posted by: ntlekt | October 5, 2009 10:57 PM | Report abuse

"How did a man this stupid, this inept, this obnoxious get to be lieutenant governor of Maryland and then GOP chairman? I guess it is a matter of race. But the blacks won't vote Republican just because a dumb black is nominal party leader. Posted by: ravitchn "

Considering that Maryland DID elect Spiro Agnew Governor, and the Republican Party let him be vice president, it isn't OBVIOUSLY racism.

Merely Republican Personnel Standards.

Posted by: ceflynline | October 5, 2009 11:33 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: MUPPET | October 6, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Doesn't Stelle realize he's just the GOP's token black so that the GOP's attacks on Obama don't look racial?

Posted by: jckdoors | October 6, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

It looks like the face of the republican party, the self proclaimed Words Of Steele isn't necesarily free to speak for the Republican party. They don't want any policy or facts or where they stand on any issues, discussed just stand there and beshow your face.

Posted by: StevG | October 6, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Michael Steele has ALWAYS been considered an Uncle Tom in pin stripes in the black community. After all, he is only free to say what the white establishment Repugs allow him to say. Btw, this comment is coming from a black man in Texas who was erroneously sent me their survey on healthcare(I hope the Repugs weren't so stupid as to think I would give them the time of day)asking highly weighted questions. This dumb@$$ survey was signed by Uncle, uh, I mean his highness Steele.
It is very obvious that Michael Steele was placed in his position to toss bombs at President Obama and NOT hide his face so it does not appear to be the usual racist acts of the Repugs.
Sell-out Steele, I hope you keep your position because any and all blacks can see by your treatment that the Repugs are truly NOT worthy of our votes.

Posted by: jtsiii | October 6, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Old Fetch n' Step Steele is at it again. He does whatever his Republican keepers tell him to do. He was chosen for his color and he's stupid enough to think they want his opinion. Well, he's getting what he deserves - a metaphorical bi+ch slapping from BOTH sides.

Posted by: xconservative | October 8, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me that Michael Steele is pretty much the male version of Sarah Palin - all about appearance and image and sorely lacking in insight and understanding. If that's the full substance of either of them, how can they advocate for the concerns of we commoners? I'm wondering if this is the best the Republican Party can do. If so, I'm concerned about ever having a true and productive bipartisan conversation about anything.

Personally, I think President Obama will be credited by history as being one of the finest presidents we've ever had, and certainly a man of great and well-integrated character.

Posted by: rgplpc | October 10, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

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