Cal Thomas / March 10, 2009

Steele Magnolias

In the 1989 film “Steel Magnolias,” Clairee Belcher, played by Olympia Dukakis, walks home accompanied by a man she met in a restaurant. When he asks her if he can come in, she declines. When he asks why, she responds, “Because I’m a married woman and I know who I am.”

On a political level, that seems to be the problem these days with the Republican Party. Many Republicans have forgotten who they are and what they are supposed to stand for. This is why there was such a strong reaction to Rush Limbaugh’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington recently. Limbaugh tried to remind Republicans what they once believed in and of the ideas that won them elections. Instead, too many Republicans have tried to cozy up to the liberal elite, hoping they will praise them for being “reasonable” and “moderate.”

This strategy has never won Republicans elections, though it may have made some of them feel better about losing.

Michael Steele, the new Republican National Committee chairman, was caught in this Venus flytrap when he seemed to agree with a CNN interviewer that Limbaugh’s radio program is “incendiary” and “ugly.” In truth, it is educational and inspirational to conservatives and anyone else interested in substance, rather than emotion. Those who call Limbaugh an “entertainer” mischaracterize him. He is a passionate advocate for ideas in which he believes, ideas that brought prosperity to the Republican Party when it also embraced them.

I asked Michael Steele about the brouhaha he didn’t start, but to which he contributed. In an interview last Thursday in his RNC office, during which he proudly pointed to a picture of himself with Limbaugh (appropriately off to his right), I asked Steele if he planned to heed the few calls for his resignation.

“No!” he shouted, before I could even complete the question. “And shame on (those) who should have the cojones to at least come and talk to me.”

Steele said he called Limbaugh to apologize for his remarks. He said Limbaugh was “very gracious.” He agrees with Limbaugh that some Republicans appear embarrassed by their party’s positions on certain (notably social) issues. Does Steele think too many try to curry favor with some on the left, especially the big media?

“I do think it’s a problem generally,” he replied. “I don’t think we should worry so much about them and that’s why I don’t feed them. If I sat and worried about what The Washington Post was going to write about me tomorrow, I would stay in my room.”

Steele said he is in stage two of a two-stage process to reform and transform the Republican Party. He won’t reveal details, because, “The mice who are scurrying about the Hill are upset because they no longer have access to the cheese, so they don’t know what’s going on.” He says his process has been “insular” because he doesn’t want people “pontificating” on his decisions or second-guessing them before they are made.

Barack Obama talked during the campaign, and since becoming president, of the need for a new bipartisanship. Does Steele believe he is serious?

“No! Having a photo-op with a bunch of Republicans, inviting them to have a beer with you, or watch a football game is great theater, but when you don’t take our suggestions seriously, when you don’t respect our staffs and involve them in the vetting process; when you don’t confer with the minority party … you’re not serious about bipartisanship.”

Didn’t Republicans when they ran Congress do to Democrats what Democrats are now doing to Republicans? “Right,” Steele admits, “and everyone (then) clamored for bipartisanship. Did they get it? No.”

Steele believes bipartisanship “is a fiction of politics. It’s an idea people work toward, but the reality is something else…”

Steele thinks White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is “running the entire government,” noting he is not known for bipartisanship, but for slash-and-burn politics.

Asked where President Obama is weak, since his poll numbers remain in the high 60s, Steele responded, “Everywhere when he puts his policies on the table.”

That alleged weakness hasn’t yet sunk in with voters, but Michael Steele believes it will soon. First, though, there is that small matter of an extreme makeover for the GOP. Perhaps another film title might serve as a guide for Republicans and where they need to go: “Back to the Future.”

© 2009 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC. 

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