Time for Michael Steele to go

Last week, a casual acquaintance from my church posted the following message on my Facebook Wall, which I am quoting verbatim: “Glen,want you to know i am NOT a fan of Obama or the bill that was just passed BUT,everything I read from you is pro G.O.P. sorry,there are just as many bad Republicans,as you think there are Dem.Or in my opinon.”

Since I have self-identified as a Republican for the better part of 20 years, perhaps longer, it follows that I disagree with the sentiments expressed in the previous post. I hang my hat on the Republican Party hook for a multitude of reasons.  Chief among those is my belief that Republican principles, by and large, cohere far more closely with the ideals of individual liberty and moral responsibility upon which this great nation was founded. Sadly, at times, the behavior of particular Republicans belies the vaunted adherence to the values and ideals that the national Party is duty bound to represent.

Yesterday, the Daily Caller website broke a banner story which divulged expenditures of close to $2,000 by a Republican National Committee staffer and several young GOP donors “at Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex.” The dollar amount in question was reimbursed to the penny by the national Party: $1,946.25.

The Daily Caller never seriously asserted that Chairman Michael Steele was aware of the reimbursement, let alone that he himself had patronized the adult entertainment establishment under discussion. Indeed, in a subsequent update, the Daily Caller pointed out that Steele was in mid-flight on the way back from the GOP Winter Retreat in Honolulu when the sordid, youthful Republican frolicking was taking place in California. But the Daily Caller did highlight other related expenses. Steele has apparently chartered private planes on a number of occasions, to the tune of “17,514…in the month of February alone (as well as $12,961 on limousines in the same period).”

Daily Caller reporter Jonathan Strong goes on to enumerate the following:  “Once on the ground, FEC filings suggest, [Michael] Steele travels in style. A February RNC trip to California, for example, included a $9,099 stop at the Beverly Hills Hotel [and] $6,596 dropped at the nearby Four Seasons.”

Strong continues the reprisal of follies: “Several months into Steele’s term as chairman, his spending spurred Republican committeemen to pass a resolution requiring checks to be signed by at least two RNC officers, and contracts over $100,000 to go out to competitive bidding. Complaints, almost always expressed off the record, have been bitter. ‘This is not somebody who is out recruiting candidates,’ said an aide who worked closely with Steele. ‘He is not meeting with donors. He’s not asking for money. The guy is writing his book or doing his speaking gigs, or whatever the hell else he fills his days with. Those are his priorities.’”  

In the immortal words of some now anonymous sage: ‘Nuff said.

The offending RNC staffer has been relieved of his duties and a refund of the $1,946.25 has been requested. But that fails to suffice for me and I suspect the same holds true for many other rank and file members of the Republican Party. The time has come for some shuffling further up the food chain.

Many fine people are employed by the Republican National Committee. I am acquainted with some of them and I like what they’re trying to do. On a personal level, I also retain some fondness for Michael Steele. He is a charming man in a one-on-one setting and has made genuine contributions to the Party. I was enough of a fan that I sent the miniscule sum I was able to afford at the time to Steele’s ill-fated 2006 Maryland Senate run. I watched him work the exhibit hall at CPAC on his way to Radio Row and was impressed with his friendly demeanor. But it is, not to put too fine a point on it, time that he packed his bags and headed elsewhere.

The reasons why are multitudinous.

In an era of nigh on 10% pervasive unemployment, when Republicans are trying to project a message of empathy with a country that is under a genuine economic crunch, the perception of a high-rolling RNC Chairman is unhelpful at best and callous at worst. It feeds all of the stereotypes of the wealthy Republicans who are all Milton Friedman theory and zilch common Main Street touch. Further, this impedes Republican efforts to saddle the Democrats with the blame that should rightfully be attached to their failed redistributive quasi-socialist efforts.

Steele has, unfortunately, compiled an increasingly dismal record as Party Chairman, in contrast to the enthusiasm that greeted his selection a little over a year ago. Right out of the gate, he got into a feud with Rush Limbaugh. Last January, on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, Steele opined that Republicans would not regain control of either house of Congress this fall. Shortly thereafter, he published a book containing a plan for Republican dominance. One minor problem: Steele had failed to inform Senate and House GOP leadership that he was even publishing the volume, let alone to coordinate strategies with them with an eye on November victories.

This latest flap is one too many in a long series of missteps. It is time for new leadership in our party. I don’t believe for a moment that Michael Steele approves of bondage-themed sex shops or those who frequent them. But on his watch, not only did someone on duty openly fraternize with colleagues at one of these loathsome joints; somehow, a receipt for it was submitted and the tab was covered. Not good. Not good at all.

I recall vividly the concerned alarm with which I heard Bill Clinton attempt to make the case in 1992 that personal character did not count anymore when selecting our political leaders. Results, from Clinton’s perspective, however fluidly defined, were (perhaps still are?) the only determinative factor in a leadership legacy. George H.W. Bush, presumably speaking as the titular head of his Party, vehemently disagreed, citing such founders as Jefferson and Washington as, first and foremost, men of character. Bush 41 lost that election and the years that followed revealed the fallout of electing a President who downplayed the importance of personal integrity, as the Clinton White House was deluged with scandal, culminating in impeachment.

Yet where does the Republican Party, as represented by the National Committee, find itself at this juncture? I have always taken comfort in the ideal of moral candor and idealism for which the Republican Party strives, certainly imperfectly, but nonetheless as a lofty and desirable goal. I do not want to see our standards lowered for any leader or even to tolerate the perception that we have watered down our objectives in this regard. Accordingly, it is time for a change at the top of the ranks at the Republican National Committee. Those of us who pledge allegiance to the conservative principles of private initiative and corporate thrift the Republican Party claims to champion deserve better.

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