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As Long as We Remember...

June 29, 2005

Judged By the Company He Keeps

Tony Soltero

One of the ways extremist Republicans worm their way into office in Maryland is by masquerading as "moderates." Our state, thankfully, is small enough and educated enough that the deep pockets of profound ignorance that fuel extreme right-wing movements aren't very widespread.

Oh, the Ku Klux Klan is quite active in a few counties, and sometimes politicians at the local level resort to obvious race-baiting and gay-baiting to win elections, but overall our state tends to favor moderate, reasonable politicians, on both sides of the aisle. If we get an extremist, it's because he or she pretended to be a moderate during the campaign, and then showed his or her true colors upon assuming office.

While it's increasingly apparent that the description fits Gov. Robert Ehrlich to a tee, given his flurry of vetoes of perfectly reasonable bills that enjoyed bipartisan support, it might be time to take a closer look at his lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, and see if he displays the same characteristics. If he wishes to run for the U.S. Senate, it's probably best to find out how representative of Maryland voters he is.

We are judged by the company we keep. This is doubly and trebly true of politicians; we're always seeing political figures scramble for photo-ops with the "right" people, accompanied with the avoidance of politicians whose pictures are featured in the weekly national news magazines with the little downward-pointing arrow on the Who's Hot/Who's Not diagram. Posturing is about two-thirds of a political officeholder's job. The wrong association can kill a political career quicker than a dozen sex scandals.

With that in mind, let's get acquainted with one Michael Zak. He's a leading Republican figure in Calvert County, and he's got some, er, interesting views on Democrats (the party most Marylanders are members of) and African-Americans. Here are a few choice quotes he delivered at a recent speech to the Calvert County Republican Women's Club:

"Mastery over blacks has always been Democratic policy. Before it was cotton. Now it is misery."

Wow. Pretty nasty blanket (and false) statement about Democrats, eh? But we're just getting started. Here's another gem:

"The unpatriotic tendencies of the Democratic Party did not begin recently."

So half of Americans and three-fifths of Marylanders are traitors, Mr. Zak?

The love continues:

"Trapped in the role once filled by slaves before the war and then afterward by poor blacks during the Jim Crow era, an underclass today maintains the political and economic power of the Democratic Party elite and those in their employ, if indirectly, in the government bureaucracy."

This drivel is just so disgusting, so racist, and so wrong at so many levels that it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Besides ignoring and rewriting history, completely forgetting about the party realignment that occurred in the wake of the Democratic-sponsored Civil Rights Act, and promoting the ugliest right-wing stereotypes of African-Americans, it's also an egregious insult to the tens of thousands of dedicated government workers of all races and ethnicities, most of whom work much harder than noted Republicans like porn star Mary Carey. One more:

"Democrats are socialists and we should call them socialists. It's to the Democrats' advantage (that) children grow up poor and uneducated."

Never mind that it's the Republicans who are chronically under funding education, and want to suck even more funding away from the poorer school districts, isn't it? And whose idea were those University of Maryland tuition increases? And when it comes to socialism, of course, Governor Ehrlich's taxpayer handouts to Wal-Mart pretty much take the cake.

It might be easy to dismiss this guy as just another Republican blowhard, tossing choice cuts of red meat to his misguided followers. But this extremist hatemonger has received a hearty endorsement from none other than Michael Steele.

That is correct. Mr. Zak has written a book that Mr. Steele has praised as "phenomenal" and "outstanding." These paeans to Mr. Zak's genius had been prominently featured on Zak's website, though apparently they have now been removed in embarrassment. But we are yet to hear a public disavowal of Zak's ideas coming from Mr. Steele himself.

So the question remains: Is Michael Steele really a moderate? Or is he a far-right extremist?

Mr. Steele has shown other episodes of being out of touch with reality, such as the time he declared on Bill Maher's show that families making $300,000 a year shouldn't be considered "rich," so maybe we can cut him some slack and assume he hasn't really thought through Mr. Zak's inflammatory comments.

What say you, Lieutenant Governor? Do you agree with this crackpot? Or are you with the majority of Marylanders who find him extremely offensive?

If you want to be our Senator, Mr. Steele, it's probably not a good idea to be keeping company with such extremists.

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