Sunday, March 26, 2006

The New York Times Magazine has a story on Michael Steele's candidacy to replace Paul Sarbanes as senator from Maryland. The title tells you the tone of the piece.
Why Is Michael Steele a Republican Candidate?
There is that whole marveling tone as if the author is observing a circus performer and just can't figure the whole act out. The reporter dismisses Steele as not being any sort of usual candidate because all he's been has been Lieutenant Governor in a state where the Lt. Governor doesn't have much clout. So, apparently, the only thing Steele has going for him is his race. The reporter can't pin him down on policy proposals. Gee, does that bother the New York Time with other candidates like Bob Casey, Jr. in Pennsylvania? Or, for that matter, most Democratic incumbents running today?

What Steele has going for him is what seems to be a firmly grounded set of beliefs about individual responsibility.
What Steele had to offer, as a candidate, was personal biography, his inspiring life story: childhood in a poor section of Washington; college at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore; then three years studying for the priesthood at a monastery, where he wore the long white tunic of the Augustinian order before deciding that his call to service lay elsewhere. His mother had worked in a laundry, making the minimum wage; his stepfather drove a limo. His parents weren't educated themselves, but they valued learning and made sure the homework in their household got done. Steele's only sibling is Monica Turner, a Georgetown-educated pediatrician (as well as an ex-wife of Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight champ).

....One of Steele's strengths is his comfort in his own skin. He doesn't change who he is depending on the audience. He does not pretend to be a Republican who just happens to be black. He will refer to a black woman as a sister — in his pronunciation, a "sistuh." At one point he said to me, "Education and economic development — if you get those two bad boys right, then you're somewhere."

He said, as we talked in his office: "I'm black. I'm a Republican. I'm a father, a husband, a former seminarian."
Each time I've heard him, I've been impressed with his ability to express his message in uplifting and inspirational language. It's a message that should have appeal if it gets heard. And what the article makes clear is that Steele is getting heard. He's spent the past four years traveling around the state and appearing at all sorts of groups. That may well pay off. And the Democratic primary has ticked off a lot of blacks in Maryland who were offended at the Democrats seeming to crown Benjamin Cardin, a white Congressman, in the primary race against Kweisi Mfume, the former Congressman and head of the NAACP. If Cardin wins the primary, there may be some black Marylanders who are disgruntled and stay home or who even vote for Michael Steele. That's a Democratic nightmare. And if Mfume wins the primary, there may be some moderate Democrats who won't support him against Steele. The dynamics are tricky.

It shows why the Democrats have been all paranoid over Steele's candidacy. The article goes into the whole Oreo-pelting incident at one of his 2002 speeches. I know that several left-wing blogs have made a whole issue out of trying to deny that this incident took place. Here's Steele's response.
The Oreos incident has been an off-and-on story for several years. An Ehrlich aide claimed that the cookies were "thick in the air like locusts," almost certainly an exaggeration. News accounts told of the cookies being "hurled" and Steele being "pelted." Democrats have charged Steele with inflating the episode to score political points, and some have privately hinted that maybe it never happened at all. When I asked Steele about it, he leaned over and spoke slowly and directly into my tape recorder to make his point. "It happened. I was there. O.K.?" He said he did not see the Oreos in the air, but when he got up, noticed them at his feet when he stepped on one and heard a crunching sound.
Whether that story did or did not take place, there is no denying what Charles Schumer's staffers did in illegally accessing Steele's credit report. That incident only gets one line in the New York Times story. You can just picture what play it would have gotten if it were GOP Senate staffers going after Barack Obama's credit report. Every time Schumer sticks his nose in front of a microphone, he should be asked about that.

Steele seems like a formidable candidate. And when you put him together with Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania and Ken Blackwell in Ohio, you can see why the Democrats are trying with all their might to portray these candidates as tokens pulled out of Karl Rove's bag of tricks. Note that Karl Rove's name appears twice in the first sentence of this story. At what point would that attitude to intelligent candidates who just happen to be both conservative and black seem so insultingly denigrating that it will back fire on the Democrats? Maybe not this year, but I predict that there will come a point that reporters will no longer report on a black Republican candidate as if he's a trick pony put forth by a masterful GOP magician.