Dear RNC: Thank You! UPDATED BELOW

steeleJust when I thought American politics was going to be a dull love-fest of bipartisan progress, with decreasing examples of bickering and hypocrisy for this poor blogger to write about, the Republican National Committee goes and announces it has selected Michael Steele for RNC Chairman.

Now I can look forward to 4 fun years of writing about a conservative, unprepared, blatantly-promoted-to-appease-a-certain-demographic Republican (just when Sarah Palin has gone off to the wilds of Alaska to lick her wounds and prepare for 2012).

So who is Michael Steele, you may ask. Well, for one thing, he’s my former Lieutenant Governer in Maryland. He has alot of academic credentials: graduated from a prestigious private high school in Washington, DC; degrees from Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University. But he is also a long-time Republican party operator, working behind the scenes to raise a lot of money for the RNC, and you may have noticed — he is one of the 8 persons of color who attended the Republican National Convention last summer. He ran alongside Robert Ehrlich when Ehrlich ran for Governor, and they won. Steele’s tenure at Lt. Governor is not remarkable in any way. Steele on his own has not run for any office. He ran for Senate in 2006, and lost.

But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had plenty of time to say stupid things, which have all been reported. Like this from the Washington Post in 2006:

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele profusely apologized yesterday for comments linking stem cell research to Nazi experimentation, but the offhand analogy could undermine what had been a concerted effort by the Republican to run for the U.S. Senate as a moderate “bridge” between Democrats and Republicans in his left-leaning state.

Or this:

The Maryland lieutenant governor, under fire for his comments, told WBAL radio that his remarks were supposed to be off the record with a handful of reporters. Instead, Steele’s campaign confirmed Tuesday that he was the unnamed Senate candidate who had assailed the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress in a story in The Washington Post.

“I’ve been quoted as calling the president my homeboy, you know. And that’s how I feel. … It’s a term of affection and respect for his leadership of our country in a difficult time,”Steele, who is black, said in the radio interview.

But my favorite story about Michael Steele is the one where a rumor was started by someone — I don’t think Steele started it — that during a debate with the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, someone in the audience threw Oreo cookies at him. Don’t get me wrong — that would be a nasty thing to do, as that term certainly has racist and bigoted undertones to it.

The problem is, there’s no evidence it actually happened, and yet Steele and the rest of the Republican loyalists went on national teevee and promoted the story, each time getting a little more descriptive about it. Days after the debate suddenly we hear that someone handed out Oreos to the audience. Next telling, they were rolling on the floor. And finally, Oreos were flying through the air.  Media Matters reported at the time:

The Baltimore Sun reported November 13 that “[n]ewspaper articles and television news reports” from the night of the gubernatorial debate made no mention of the alleged Oreo cookie incident, and “representatives of the news departments at television stations WBAL, WJZ and WMAR and Maryland Public Television said they have no video of the incident.”

In fact, the first reporting of anything resembling the purported cookie-throwing incident came five days after the debate, on October 1, 2002, when the Sun itself reported that “Ehrlich spokesman Paul Schurick said Democrats in the audience … distributed Oreo cookies” at the gubernatorial debate. The report made no mention of anyone throwing cookies at Steele.

Two weeks later, The Weekly Standard’s Jeffrey Goldberg reported as fact Schurick’s allegation that Oreo cookies were passed out at the debate. In an October 14, 2002, article in the Standard’s “scrapbook” section, Goldberg wrote that “supporters of Townsend passed around Oreo cookies” at the debate. Syndicated columnist George F. Will was next to pick up on the Oreo story, writing on October 21, 2002, that “[s]ome of the audience had distributed Oreo cookies to insult Ehrlich’s running mate.” Additionally, on October 31, 2002, The Washington Post reported that, according to Ehrlich, Townsend supporters “mocked” Steele by bringing Oreo cookies to the gubernatorial debate.

The first allegations of cookie-throwing surfaced on October 21, 2002, when the Associated Press and The Baltimore Sun both reported that on October 20, 2002, Ehrlich told an audience assembled at a Jewish day school that “Townsend supporters at the debate threw Oreo cookies” at Steele. The Salisbury, Maryland, Daily Times reported October 22, 2002, that “the Ehrlich campaign” claimed “protesters at the debate threw Oreo cookies at Steele.” The Washington Times reported Ehrlich’s claims on October 29, 2002.

Moreover, Steele’s initial accounts of the debate made no mention of the Oreo incident. The Sun reported that “Steele was quoted in two articles that appeared in the [September 27, 2002] newspaper talking about the pro-Townsend crowd and what he called race-baiting by her campaign, but he said nothing about cookies.” Yet according to a November 22, 2002, report by the Capital News Service, Steele later “said an Oreo cookie rolled to his feet during the debate.”

All I can say as a blogger is, thank you, RNC! The Republican Clown Car is back in action!

UPDATE: Legum’s New Line has a wonderful recounting of 5 facts about the political career of Michael Steele. Oh, it’s good.

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3 comments

  1. And the racist wing of the party is apoplectic! How can they hate on the black man in the White House for the color of his skin when this guy is in charge of their party?

  2. you can always count on the republicans to figure out a way to make things intesting!! will be fun to see how he does.

  3. From what I heard on C-SPAN this weekend, the racist base is extremely unhappy — the Republicans are working hard on becoming a political party that will be able to meet in a phone booth.

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