January 30, 2009
After a long, cold "winter of discontent" in the Republican Party following the defeat in November, and after eight years of wayward leadership in the Bush White House, this has to be one of the best pieces of news for the Party of Lincoln in a long, long time. After extensive deliberations and much arm-twisting, the Republican National Committee chose former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele to serve as party chairman for the next two years. He was chosen on the sixth ballot, prevailing over South Carolina Republican chairman Katon Dawson by 91 votes to 77. (The incumbent RNC chairman, Mike Duncan, withdrew his name prior to the final round.) Steele's brief but rousing victory speech left no doubt about his energetic approach, competing all across the country, and not putting up with nay-sayers: "And for those of you who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over!" The speech was broadcast on C-SPAN this evening, and is already on YouTube; also see his "Blueprint for Tomorrow".
Steele is not a current member of the Republican National Committee, and is thus considered something of a party "outsider," relatively speaking. He gained widespread respect for his service as Lt. Governor of Maryland, from 2003 to 2007, when Republican Bob Ehrlich was governor. Michael Steele is a fresh, enthusiastic voice for reform in the party, making a clean break from recent years. The Washington Post noted that there is a widespread "backlash against Bush" in the RNC, which is probably an understatement. Hopefully, the growing realization that the former president led his party astray will not be accompanied by undue recrimination. We must face the recent past openly and fearlessly if we are to learn from the mistakes, but we should not wallow in those mistakes, either.
For many people, Steele's African-American heritage is the most significant feature about him; it's the title of the CNN.com story on his election, for example. For me, Steele's victory is a welcome sign that the center-right-oriented Republican Leadership Council is regaining in influence within the party. Steele was a principal leader of the RLC until a few months ago. Often castigated by some in the party as "not conservative," they are in fact the best hope the GOP has for attractive new voters (or bringing back former Republican voters) and thereby regaining majority status.
Crooks almost always get their comeuppance in the end, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich's political career came to a swift and merciless end yesterday. The Illinois State Senate not only voted 59-0 to remove him from office, but also passed a resolution barring him from ever holding public office in the state again. Maybe he can move to Indiana -- after his jail sentence has been served!