Rusted Steele

New GOP chairman Michael Steele was supposed to be a breath of fresh air, especially on gay issues. Instead, he's been a disappointment.

BY James Kirchick

March 10 2009 12:00 AM ET

Michael Steele, the new
chairman of the Republican National Committee, was supposed to
be a breath of fresh air for the moribund Grand Old Party. Not
only has the first African-American leader of the GOP put a
more diverse face on an organization that consists largely of
older white men, but more substantively, his moderate
conservatism was promised to be the saving grace of a party in
desperate need of reform. Steele had been a member of the
Republican Liberty Council, a group of socially moderate
Republicans founded by former New Jersey governor Christine
Todd Whitman that tried to make pro-choice and pro-gay
politicos feel more comfortable in the party. Steele was also
unafraid to criticize the excesses of the GOP; when he ran for
Maryland senator in 2006 he joked that the "R" in
Republican was akin to a "scarlet letter."

In his campaign to
become party chair, Steele ran as a moderate. Not long after he
won a contentious leadership election that necessitated six
ballots, Steele
acknowledged

that his ascension presented an "important opportunity" to
reach out to pro-choice and pro-gay voters. But since taking
the helm of the RNC in January, Steele has proven himself thus
far to be a disappointment to those hoping that he would move
the party towards the center, especially on issues of concern
to gay voters.

First, there was
Steele's well-publicized row with conservative talk radio king
Rush Limbaugh. Attempting to neutralize a coordinated
Democratic strategy of painting Limbaugh as the leader of the
Republican Party, Steele referred to Limbaugh as occasionally
"incendiary" and "ugly" in an
interview

with CNN's D.L. Hughley. It didn't matter that this remark was
made in passing, or, for that matter, that it was true (even
Limbaugh's army of unreflective "dittoheads" cannot deny
it). The increasingly shrinking conservative movement will
brook no criticism of its loudmouth standard-bearer, and
essentially proved the Democratic analysis correct by rushing
to Limbaugh's defense and pressuring Steele to prostrate
himself at the host's feet, which he did posthaste.

But a more dispiriting
example of Steele's captivity to outdated social conservative
ideology was a little-noticed remark he made in an exchange
with another right-wing talk radio host, Mike Gallagher, about
a week before his spat with Limbaugh. Asked by Gallagher if he
favored civil unions for gay couples, Steele
responded

:

"No, no no. What
would we do that for? What are you, crazy? No. Why would we
backslide on a core, founding value of this country. I mean,
this isn't something that you just kind of like, 'Oh,
well, today I feel, you know, loosey-goosey on marriage.' I
mean, this is a foundational principle of this country. It is a
foundational principle of organized society. It isn't
something that, you know, in America we decided, 'Let's
make it between a man and a woman; oh, well, now let's
change our mind and make it between anyone and
anyone.'"

No.

Tags: Politics

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