I can’t say I’ve ever had the utmost confidence in Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. High hopes upon his assumption of the chairmanship had eroded due to clashes with conservatives, dispassionate responses to Obama administration policies, and more — and to me, Steele looked like just another Republican looking to distance the Grand Ole’ Party from its conservative roots.
So, naturally, when I heard that he was releasing Right Now: A 12-Step Program For Defeating the Obama Agenda and marketing it not only as a recipe for halting the slide into European-style socialism brought about by this administration but also as a prescription of sorts for fixing the GOP and returning the party to power, to say I was skeptical would be understatement of the year. (Granted, the year is only six days old, but you get my point.)
See, when it comes to the fundamental ideas and ideals upon which this nation was founded, you either get it or you don’t. That’s why, for a long time now, I’ve been pushing the Republican Party to approach each and every issue in these two upcoming elections and beyond by asking whether the issue in question was within the proper purview of a limited federal government as designed and envisioned by the likes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Instead of the typical, myopic, issue-by-issue focus which has fostered a basic misunderstanding of conservative ideals, boil everything down to the correct role of government and start from there. To me, Michael Steele had never shown that he understood that. In fact, his bristling attitude at times toward advocates of conservative principles and a limited federal government has shown just the opposite.
Yesterday, however, I saw a completely different man. I saw glimpses of Michael Steele the Fox News Contributor, the same Michael Steele who originally got me so excited about the possibilities of his chairmanship. The first glimpse came from an Associated Press piece released yesterday afternoon, written about interviews Steele has given over the past few days regarding his book release. Consider these two snippets:
Steele’s new book, “Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda,” released Monday by Regnery Publishing, offers his blueprint for the party’s resurgence. The first step for Republicans, he says, is admitting that they have compromised their principles in the past decade.
“We must support Republican officials who assert these principles,” he writes. “When elected Republicans vote against Republican principles, the voters must withhold their support — withhold it vigorously and consistently.”
To regain the public confidence, Steele says the GOP should, among other things, expose the “reign of error” inherent in liberal policies, contrast conservative and liberal principles, and highlight the damage caused by Obama’s policies while explaining conservative solutions.
More surprising, the GOP chairman directly or indirectly criticizes:
- President George H.W. Bush for raising taxes two years after President Ronald Reagan left office, though Steele ignores the fact that Reagan raised taxes too.
- President George W. Bush for not vetoing spending bills during his first five years in office. He calls Bush and other Republicans “enablers for big government” and derides the Bush administration’s Troubled Asset Relief Program as “a massive government slush fund.”
- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, for backing censorship of political speech through the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Steele says the GOP erred in allowing itself to be associated with “a national political speech code.”
- Republican lawmakers in general, who allowed spending to rise from 2001 to 2004, went along with TARP and McCain-Feingold, and supported the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.
“We must quickly learn our lessons, return to our principles and move on,” Steele concludes.
Even then, I wasn’t convinced. After all, Steele is pushing a book, and it doesn’t take Stephen Hawking on Adderall to look at the Tea Party movement exploding and expanding across America and determine that people are dissatisfied with big-government tendencies ingrained deep within both the Democratic and Republican parties. Politicians and pundits alike tend to become more and more disingenuous as elections and opportunities approach, and Steele has held office, so to speak, within both categories. It wasn’t until I saw his appearance on Greta Van Susteren’s show–during the 1:00 a.m. repeat, actually–that it finally dawned on me that, by golly, Michael Steele might just get it after all.
No, it wasn’t his enthusiasm with regard to the recently announced retirement of Democrats like North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorman or–just breaking now–Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd which caused me to look at Chairman Steele in a new light. No, it wasn’t even his acknowledgment of the frustration of so many disenfranchised Americans, or even his brutal assessment of the policies and practices of this administration and Congress. Anybody interesting in kowtowing to concerned conservative voters can do those things, and Steele has every reason to be concerned about the fracture of the political right should the GOP refuse to become the political vehicle for the principles espoused by the growing Tea Party movement. Surprisingly enough, it was Steele’s answer to an almost after-the-fact question asked by Van Susteren which raised my eyebrows well into my ever-expanding forehead.
VAN SUSTEREN: This is sort of a random question, but in your book you talk about the no smoking in restaurants, as though that somehow is taking away the power of the people. I don’t get that one, because it seems to me that people ought to be able to go to restaurants and not have smoke blown in their faces. It almost takes the power away from the people if they’re getting smoke blown in their faces. What’s with that?
STEELE: Well, the point there is an illustration of where elected officials make decisions without consulting the community. Take for example what we’re witnessing in the District of Columbia on the gay marriage effort, to institute gay marriages in the District of Columbia. The citizens haven’t been consulted; you have the elected body, instead of taking something so important and so reflective of different points of view and having the citizens vote on it, the government is making these types of decisions. The reality of it is, when you start stripping away individual choices, individual decisions about how they live their lives and what they do, that’s a little bit too much and, I think, it’s a good example of where a lot of people draw the line on their personal freedoms and their personal choices.
Folks, that’s everything right there. Everything. No matter how harmful second-hand smoke may be, no matter how much the vast majority of non-smoking Americans don’t want cigarette smoke lingering in the air as they enjoy their meal, the government has no business whatsoever legislating smoke-free restaurants and public places. The same goes for health care reform, the same goes for gay marriage, the same goes even for abortion. These are issues over which the government has no constitutional authority and therefore should be placed directly in front of the people on a state-by-state basis. That Michael Steele took the chance and used such a populist example to prove a point about the proper size, scope, reach and role of the government is far more important than anything he could ever say on any particular issue or specific policy.
As unlikely as it might have seemed even a few days ago, I can say with confidence that Michael Steele absolutely gets it. Twice yesterday, earlier in that interview with Greta Van Susteren and even earlier in the day during an interview with Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto, Steele mentioned that if he weren’t chairman of the RNC he’d be outside with the tea partiers “raising you-know-what.” I shook my head when I first heard it. I rolled my eyes when I heard him say it for a second time. Now, though, because of his answer to an afterthought, I believe him.
What’s most important right now, at this juncture in American history, is not the dichotomy of blue versus red or left versus right and all of the purple points in between — what’s important right now is finding true liberty, the right spot on that sliding scale between totalitarianism and anarchy. That’s the hallmark argument presented by the growing Tea Party movement. Sure, the picket signs might decry higher taxes and increased spending and the steady slide into European-style socialism, but it all boils down to liberty versus tyranny. And if the leadership in the Republican Party can understand that message at its core and transform the GOP into a political vehicle for those concerns and the proper approach to governance which will address them, we’ll be able to do far more than defeat Barack Obama’s agenda — we’ll be able to once again bring about growth, prosperity and freedom in the United States of America.