Awesome piece by Roger Simon in today’s Politico on recovering politician Michael Steele:
Steele, who is a resident fellow at the university’s Institute of Politics, manages to traverse the entire breadth of the Midway before the inevitable happens: A passing car comes to halt, and the driver lowers her passenger window and hails Steele as an old friend, even though they have never met.
While Steele was once the (first black) lieutenant governor of Maryland and the (first black) chairman of the Republican National Committee, today he is far better known than he was then. This is largely due to the airtime he gets as an MSNBC analyst and his appearances on “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “The Colbert Report.”
He is outgoing, bright, magnetic, recognized on streets and in airports and is the one thing he was not while he ran the Republican Party: popular.
“I am the most misunderstood man in politics,” Steele tells me.
Steele was elected to a two-year term as Republican Party chairman on Jan. 30, 2009. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Barack Obama had moved into the White House, and a lot of people were talking about a “post-racial” America. Nancy Pelosi was running the House, Harry Reid was running the Senate and it didn’t seem as if the Republican message was selling all that well.
So maybe it was time for a change.
Except Steele’s election took six ballots and, though Steele had conservative Republican credentials, the reaction of some of the party kingpins ranged from displeasure to dismay. And then there was the race thing. Maybe the country was not so post-racial after all.
“After I was elected chairman, there were some people who refused to shake my hand,” Steele says of some Republican bigwigs.
He was a different kind of chairman. He got involved in controversies that earned him the wrath of Sen. John McCain (not that hard a thing to do, actually) and made a series of statements that some found baffling.
He said the war in Afghanistan was a war “of Obama’s choosing” and that he was going to tell local Republican chairmen, “Don’t think this is a country club atmosphere where we sit around drinking wine and eating cheese and talking amongst ourselves. If you don’t want to drill down and build coalitions to minority communities, then you have to give that seat to someone who does.”
Some of his ideas were actually pretty good. He said he wanted an “off the hook” public relations offensive to reach out to “the young, Hispanic, black, a cross section” and apply party principles “to urban-suburban hip-hop settings.”
This earned him the wrath of Rush Limbaugh, which could be considered a badge of honor, but Steele was the chairman of the Republican Party, a party that didn’t actually think of itself as being that “off the hook.”
Click here to read the full piece.