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Bob McDonnell and Michael Steele's damaging damage control

It's a maxim of criminal defense law that the cover-up is worse than the crime. Criminal defense lawyers warn their clients that they are likely to get in more trouble for what they do after the underlying offense -- lying, destroying evidence, tampering with witnesses -- than for the crime itself.

I'd like to propose a corollary in political public relations: the defensive response is always worse than the flub itself. In other words, what can most trip up a public official is not the initial mistake but what he or she does afterward. Exhibit A is Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). Exhibit B is Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

Think about McDonnell's decision to issue a proclamation to declare April Confederate History Month -- in contrast to his two Democratic predecessors and without the apologetic reference to slavery included by the state's last Republican governor, Jim Gilmore.

Dumb, yes. Really dumb, especially since the proclamation singles out "the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War." Even dumber -- and far more politically damaging -- was McDonnell's failure to instantly reverse course and his explanation about why no reference to slavery was merited: "There were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia."

McDonnell eventually backtracked, admitting a "major omission" and amending the proclamation to denounce the "evil, vicious and inhumane practice" that led to the war. This about-face was entirely predictable.

The only surprise was that it took McDonnell so long.

Contrast this with McDonnell's far more adept handling of the campaign controversy over his master's thesis, in which he said immediately that the document, with its anti-feminist, anti-gay positions, was "simply an academic exercise and clearly does not reflect my views."

Steele offers a different example of how not to handle a controversy.

I have to admit a certain sympathy for the hapless chairman: He should not be in that job, but the particular offense for which he's being blamed -- the RNC-reimbursed outing with donors to a bondage-themed nightclub -- is hardly his fault.

Party chairmen do not pore over expense receipts submitted by junior staffers.

But Steele, as he seems to prove himself endlessly capable of doing, dug his hole much deeper when he accepted the invitation from ABC's George Stephanopoulos to say that as an African-American he had a "slimmer margin for error" than another chairman would.

"The honest answer is yes," Steele said. "It just is. Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. ... That's just the reality of it." This was not, by the way, Steele's first misstep on this topic: "I don't see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation. Why?"

Steele said in an interview with Washingtonian magazine for its February issue. "Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is chairman?"

Playing the race card is rarely a smart move. Obama knows this. When David Letterman asked him if racism had anything to do with opposition to his health-care plan, Obama was smart enough to decline the invitation that Steele accepted. "It's important to realize that I was actually black before the election," he said.

Admitting error does not come easily to any of us, least of all politicians. Pointing fingers elsewhere is a natural response, including for those in politics. It's the smart politician, albeit the rare one, who understands how much damage you can do to yourself in the course of damage control.

By Ruth Marcus  | April 8, 2010; 3:03 PM ET
Categories:  Marcus  | Tags:  Ruth Marcus  
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Comments

First of all, I'm a white guy and a Democrat.

But I do believe Mr. Steele is getting a bum rap for his answer to Stephanopolous' question.

It should be pretty apparent to any honest observer that blacks in high-profile positions do enjoy a slimmer margin of error than whites do. And to a far greater extent, they're more likely to be viewed by whites as exemplary of their larger community.

A white banker caught with his hand in the till, for example, will draw opprobriation as a mere crook. A black banker? "Oh well, he's just like the rest of them ..."


Posted by: Ralphinjersey | April 8, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, but if Steele is spending tens of thousands of RNC contributions for private jets, expensive hotels and restaurants, Hawaiian retreats at a time when millions are unemployed....being Black doesn't excuse the criticism he richly deserves. And I'm not even talking about the...other thing.

Posted by: logcabin1836 | April 8, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

PS....As an avid and loyal Obama supporter I would like to add that Mr. Steele has repeatedly criticized Democrats for using the "Race Card", only now to see him to play that same "card" with Stephanopolous. I would argue that Steele being Black has actually provided him cover and prevented the RNC from doing what they really want to do with this man...fire him.

Posted by: logcabin1836 | April 8, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

It's simply amazing how Southern whites can not, and never have accepted the fact that the final outcome of the Civil War was utter defeat for their cause. Their cause was the continuation of the enslavement of human beings; that's it; everything else that they use to white wash it over with is simply untrue. The South chose to succeed from the United States of America in order to perpetuate and keep slavery alive; leaving the Union by force of arms and insurrection; it's called "treason." Slavery or enslavement of humans beings is the greatest evil known to man. Even after their crushing defeat, they continued slavery in other insidious forms called "Jim Crow and segregation," The biggest mistake we as a nation made following the war was to let these villainous cowards back into our Union. And yet they want to memorialize the Civil War! Do we honor Hitler and the Nazis for what they did to Europe and the Jews? Look at these Southerners today, have they changed? No; do they love our country no? Do they still believe in segregation, slavery, and of course "Jim Crow?" Of course they do! It's in their genes; anger, hate, jealousy, and a huge inferiority complex. Their only use for African-Americans is entertainment, and house cleaning. They do everything conceivable, and in their power to keep blacks down no matter what. However, here's one of the greatest hypocrisy's of it all; they can't win at football, basketball, baseball, or track-in-field without blacks; seventy plus percent of their teams are composed of blacks. In just the last 5 years do you think Florida, Alabama, or LSU would have won a national championship without blacks? Everyone with even half a brain knows the answer to that; it's NO! What would Kentucky or North Carolina basketball be without black players? Nobody, that's what, and the real good black players turn pro within a year or two. Do you think they have any love to live in place where their just pawns in a game? Get real! Tim Tebow is just an average white boy playing football at Florida; not even worth a high place in the NFL draft. He would have never won stink without the black players at Florida; that's a fact. But gosh; with those unrecognized black players he's turned into a Southern white God; even awarded the Heisman trophy; there's a joke! Lot's of Southern white money given to the right people can get you just about anything, even national championships; you think? Well my fellow bloggers, it's time to "get real." Call a spade a spade; racism is still very much alive a well in the "good old South."

Posted by: havasloop | April 8, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Republicans, Slavery...And The Voyeur Bondage Sex Club. Some stories just write themselsves all to easily.

Posted by: kravitzkravitz | April 8, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

No question McDonnell waited way too long to backtrack, after first issuing that moronic slavery wasn't "significant" answer. But, I don't think McDonnell made the original deed either better or worse by his cover-ups. The original deed speaks for itself and is now pinned to McDonnell's shirt for all time. How can ANYONE issue such a proclamation, failing to mention the evils of slavery? I've lived in Virginia long enough to recognize that the Old South feels humiliated by the Civil War and irrationally wants to go back and "prove something." What exactly do these bitter folks want to prove? That black people were not fully human? That the evils done to an entire group of people was okay? Or not "significant"? For the Governor of the Commonwealth in the year 2010 to put forward such a proclamation is totally shameful and outrageous. McDonnell gets to wear this proclamation in favor of slavery and secession around his neck for a very long time. He has shown what he really believes. if you don't think so, ask yourself if you would ever -- yourself -- do such a thing in the first place, especially as the Governor of a state where the descendants of those slaves still live? Or is he the Governor of only white Southerners?

Posted by: cturtle1 | April 8, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

I think the race deal is getting silly. Yes we as a country do things based on race, I think many voted for Pres Obama to prove to themselves they were not prejudiced.
Probably true that Steele should go but, the Gop powers probably think that would look prejudiced.
But like Obama said he was (half) black before he was elected and Steele was black when the Gop made him chairman.
Point is if he screwed up, dump him, the world will continue to spin.

Posted by: macira | April 8, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

This insensitive and outrageous act is McDonnell's second outrageous act against a group of people. The first was his removal of gays from the Equal Opportunity language. Gays can now be fired, or not hired in the first place, simply for being gay. The AG took it a step further and wrote directives to all state offices, including universities. It caused an uproar, as well it should. And now we have this proclamation.

What does McConnell really believe? It's becoming clear very early in his term that he doesn't think gays or black descendants of slaves deserve equal treatment or consideration from him.


Posted by: cturtle1 | April 8, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Funny thing about "descendants of slaves", Pres Obama is very likely not, his black family is from Africa. I am white and descended from folks from the British Isles, many folks were brought here from there as "indentured servants" another kind of slave. I could be a descendant from a kind of slave. Maybe this is another issue we have worn out!
Almost any one can find a "woe is me" issue if they look long enough.

Posted by: macira | April 8, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Angry about misspent coin is one thing, not having any strong platform but hell no after losing both Houses and the Executive is reason to maybe fire Steele. Even when sensible committee leaders like Lugar giving a strong yes to the new Start treaty, McConnell is still fighting tooth and nail. The women are even worse led by the three headed Cerebus of Bachmann, Foxx and Palin. The Snowe/Collins compromisers become RINOs, voodoo politics called by the voodoo economics majors in deficits.

Posted by: jameschirico | April 8, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

IF you give a politician a Dollar he/she will more than likely misspend it!!

Posted by: macira | April 8, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Very good article, not to be piling on
but doesn't McDonnell have any help??
I felt he made a major blunder. How can
he get so far and then be so dumb.

Posted by: georgepearce3 | April 9, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Great article, and "havasloop", your post was excellent. I see an enormous similarity in the fact that the South lost the war, but has NEVER given up their hate for the black race, and the repukicans lost the elections, 2006/2008 BIGTIME, and have NEVER given up their hate for PRESIDENT OBAMA and ANYTHING he does. Newt
Gingrich gave a speech at the Southern
GOP Convention yesterday, pledging and promising that when the pukes get control again this fall they will as a majority
stop ANYTHING that Obama and the dems want to pass. If the implosion of the GOP continues with the balzing speed that is
presently unfolding, they have no chance in hell of fullfilling Newties' dreams.
If PRESIDENT OBAMA continues with the
OBAMA BLITZ of the people's work, AS HE
PROMISED HE WOULD DO, and the economy and
health care issues improve, the pukes can
bend over and kiss their collective behinds
and their repugnant tactics good-bye.
Steele and McDonnell are just grand examples of the disintegration of the once
Grand Old Party. They are now the Gangminded Odorous Panderers. 207 days until SWEET TUESDAY-GO OBAMA-GO DEMS!!!!!

Posted by: patriotgmalou | April 9, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

In related news, Andrea Merkel issued a proclamation declaring May Third Reich History Month.

Posted by: eeitreim | April 9, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

The future is a scary unknown place. We kno that the country will be less and less white. (Europe is, after all, only a small part of the world.) We know that the weather is going to get more and more extreme. We know that countries like China and India are going to become more powerful. But we DON'T know how this will really play out. So we have two choices:

We can use facts and reason to prepare as best we can. We can make better use of our resources, including our people. OR we can pretend that "it ain't so" and that we can go back to the golden days of the 50's when everybody was on their backs except the US, and only white males held power in the US. Of course you can't go back but you can wallow in delusion. That's what the Party of No is doing right now.

Posted by: donrus1 | April 9, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Call a spade a spade; racism is still very much alive a well in the "good old South."
Posted by: havasloop
____
Well judging from your post "anti- White" racism is very much alive in YOU!!!

Posted by: sovine08 | April 9, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

What exactly do these bitter folks want to prove? That black people were not fully human? That the evils done to an entire group of people was okay? Or not "significant"? For the Governor of the Commonwealth in the year 2010 to put forward such a proclamation is totally shameful and outrageous. McDonnell gets to wear this proclamation in favor of slavery and secession around his neck for a very long time. He has shown what he really believes. if you don't think so, ask yourself if you would ever -- yourself -- do such a thing in the first place, especially as the Governor of a state where the descendants of those slaves still live? Or is he the Governor of only white Southerners?
Posted by: cturtle1
______
Look McDonnell NEVER defended slavery.. how do you get not mentioning slavery as defending it??? McDonnell just wanted to honor Virginians who fought FOR VIRGINIA.. His mistake was calling it to broad a title.. Confederate History Month, is to broad... he should of somehow limited it to just the Confederate SOLDIER. But look everytime we mention history do we have to include slavery. The Declaration of Independence allowed for the continuation of slavery should that be mention that every 4th of July?? George Washington owned slaves should that have to be brought up on every Presidents day??? Slavery was evil.. no one is disagreeing.. But by trying to honor Americans who fought and died for the Confederacy is not in anyway saying different...

Posted by: sovine08 | April 9, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

macira, GROW UP YOU ASS!
My great grandmother is STILL alive and has the welts on her back from when she was an slave\indentured servant AFTER slavery was abolished. When is it ok, by YOUR standards, to beat, rape and hit a woman Macira??? You are a disgusting monster and despicable creep. Let me know when it's ok to beat women, all of us look forward to your "woe is me" reply on this question to me!

Posted by: gr8bigguy | April 10, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

This is not the only Civil War History scandal in Virginia.


See:

http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/civil-war-shame-in-virginia/

Posted by: MikeLicht | April 10, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

to all, but especially to the DIMocRATS here:

HOW DARE YOU say even one hate-FILLED/critical/negative word about any Republican, WHEN the DIMocRAT Party has a sitting US Senator, who is a stinking, evil, KLANSMAN?

i'll listen to your LEFTIST, SELF-serving, sanctamonious BILGE, exactly one day AFTER your party UNSEATS Robert "KKK" Byrd, DIMocRAT of WV, from his committee assignments, censures him & VERY publicly throws Byrd OUT of the DIMocRAT party on his PREJUDICED ear.

Senator "KKK" Byrd is NOT a "former member" of the KLAN; instead he IS a CURRENT life-member & national officer, as i write these lines & was a KLANSMAN when he was elected.

TOLERATING a filthy, stinking KLANSMAN in the DIMocRATS party is PROOF POSITIVE that NONE of the "leaders" of the DIMocRAT party, including BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA, is a DECENT person. each/every of them, by NOT removing Byrd, are just as EVIL as he is.

yours, TN46

Posted by: texasnative46 | April 11, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

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Home />All Categories > Politics & Government >Elections >Your Open Question

Grape S_democracy_new ethics Member since:April 11, 2010Total points:85 (Level 1)Your Open QuestionShow me another » Electoral partcipations@weaker comunities@USA may reveal their concerns,odd raise@basic needed fund to lead:ok?
dr the rev kamal karna roy said above phrase in new york, usa, as a rebel gop candidate both u s senate from n y state, & the governor of new york state nov 2010 electoions. he soliited write in votes @ ballots to be elected from eligibble voters of new york. win of losekamal karna stratgy to contest may mend the electoral process in nation. dr roy went to federal courts to order govt authorities to release seed money for poor and weaker candidates @election comparable to public assistances for liiving expences of needy of states of usa. lectoral process,leader et al are apetite @ democracy,the rev dr kamal roy was a legal fec regd candidate of u s president, nov 4. 2008 elec.he filed more than jusual number of election petitions to oid election of Obama of 2008 elections with violations including u s birth of obama bh,later failed to proved and he violated legal need to provide, the facts were alleged by dr roy u s wide in most district of violations and in the i c j.
58 minutes ago- 4 days left to answer.
4/12/2010 11:59:54 AM

Posted by: monicanixon | April 12, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

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Home />All Categories > Politics & Government >Elections >Your Open Question

Grape S_democracy_new ethics Member since:April 11, 2010Total points:85 (Level 1)Your Open QuestionShow me another » Electoral partcipations@weaker comunities@USA may reveal their concerns,odd raise@basic needed fund to lead:ok?
dr the rev kamal karna roy said above phrase in new york, usa, as a rebel gop candidate both u s senate from n y state, & the governor of new york state nov 2010 electoions. he soliited write in votes @ ballots to be elected from eligibble voters of new york. win of losekamal karna stratgy to contest may mend the electoral process in nation. dr roy went to federal courts to order govt authorities to release seed money for poor and weaker candidates @election comparable to public assistances for liiving expences of needy of states of usa. lectoral process,leader et al are apetite @ democracy,the rev dr kamal roy was a legal fec regd candidate of u s president, nov 4. 2008 elec.he filed more than jusual number of election petitions to oid election of Obama of 2008 elections with violations including u s birth of obama bh,later failed to proved and he violated legal need to provide, the facts were alleged by dr roy u s wide in most district of violations and in the i c j.
58 minutes ago- 4 days left to answer.
4/12/2010 11:59:54 AM

Posted by: monicanixon | April 12, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

4.12. 2010
» Electoral partcipations@weaker comunities@USA may reveal their concerns,odd raise@ basic needed fund to lead:ok?
dr the rev kamal karna roy said above phrase in new york, usa, as a rebel gop candidate both u s senate from n y state, & the governor of new york state nov 2010 electoions. he solicited write in votes @ ballots to be elected from eligibble voters of new york. win of lose ,kamal karna strategy to contest may mend the electoral process in nation. dr roy went to federal courts to order govt authorities to release seed money for poor and weaker candidates @election comparable to public assistances for living expences of needy of states of usa. electoral process,leader et al are apetite @ democracy,the rev dr kamal roy was a legal fec regd candidate of u s president, nov 4. 2008 elec.he filed more than usual number of election petitions to void election of B H Obama of 2008 U S Presidential elections with violations including u s birth of obama bh,later failed to proved and he violated legal need to provide, the facts were alleged by dr roy u s wide in most district of violations and in the i c j.

Posted by: monicanixon | April 12, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

4.12. 2010
» Electoral partcipations@weaker comunities@USA may reveal their concerns,odd raise@ basic needed fund to lead:ok?
dr the rev kamal karna roy said above phrase in new york, usa, as a rebel gop candidate both u s senate from n y state, & the governor of new york state nov 2010 electoions. he solicited write in votes @ ballots to be elected from eligibble voters of new york. win of lose ,kamal karna strategy to contest may mend the electoral process in nation. dr roy went to federal courts to order govt authorities to release seed money for poor and weaker candidates @election comparable to public assistances for living expences of needy of states of usa. electoral process,leader et al are apetite @ democracy,the rev dr kamal roy was a legal fec regd candidate of u s president, nov 4. 2008 elec.he filed more than usual number of election petitions to void election of B H Obama of 2008 U S Presidential elections with violations including u s birth of obama bh,later failed to proved and he violated legal need to provide, the facts were alleged by dr roy u s wide in most district of violations and in the i c j.

Posted by: monicanixon | April 12, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

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