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As Long as We Remember...

July 27, 2006

A Campaign of Misdirection

Tony Soltero

Michael Steele, the Republicans' candidate for the retiring Paul Sarbanes' U. S. Senate seat, is furiously trying to package himself as some sort of moderate. This is Maryland, after all; our population is generally well-educated, literate, and pro-science, and therefore less prone to Republican demagoguery than that of most other states.

Diversionary and contrived phony "issues" like gay marriage or the raging flag-burning epidemic sweeping the nation just don't gain the kind of traction here that they might in more backward parts of the country, at least not at a statewide level.

So if Lieutenant Governor Steele wants to be our senator, he will have to pretend he's not a far-right reactionary. His campaign knows this, and his official website murmurs all the proper moderate-sounding platitudes about issues like energy independence and education. It even takes our current government to task for under-funding homeland security and for an inadequate energy policy, so much so that you'd think he was a Democrat!

But exactly how Mr. Steele is going to pull off this "moderate" act is a mystery, given that our lieutenant governor is an admirer of George W. Bush, the most far-right leader in our nation's history and a man who displays open contempt for the Constitution at every opportunity.

Mr. Steele has also held fundraisers under the auspices of America's favorite marksman, Dick Cheney, who's even more right-wing - and even less popular - than Mr. Bush. And for some odd, inscrutable reason, the word "Iraq" is about as prevalent on the website as are autographed pictures of Hillary Clinton. I can't imagine why.

Of course, it's more than fair to question the "moderate" credentials of someone who likens embryonic stem-cell research to the Holocaust. And I'm sure Mr. Steele would call himself "pro-life", though that term has become so devalued that it's pretty much lost whatever rhetorical value it once had.

There's nothing wrong with opposing embryonic stem-cell research on religious grounds, if one is intellectually honest about it; but such a trait is close to nonexistent in today's Republican Party leadership. If Michael Steele would call for a nationwide shutdown of fertility clinics, where stem cells are produced, then he'd be one of the rare exceptions to the rule.

But as far as I can tell he's made no such pronouncements. Instead, he ducks the question at every opportunity, trying to have it both ways by tailoring his message to his particular audience. That's real principled of him.

And as nice and pleasant as Mr. Steele is trying to make himself sound, his fundraising sources raise some very deep concerns about his sincerity. He took a campaign contribution from Sen. Trent Lott (R., MS), the man who infamously sang the praises of career racist Strom Thurmond.

A recent fundraiser featured one Floyd Brown on the host committee - the man who put together one of the most disgusting race-baiting political ad campaigns in history, the notorious Willie Horton ad of 1988.

Another contributor to Steele's cause is Alex Castellanos, who played a part in assembling race-tinged commercials in North Carolina plugging Sen. Jesse Helms over African-American challenger Harvey Gantt. The commercials were credited with swinging a tough, competitive race to the ultraconservative Senator Helms.

These people are decidedly not moderates. They are radicals. And even if they're not racists themselves, they're not above using racist tactics to influence elections, which is every bit as despicable. If these people are contributing to Michael Steele, what concessions do they expect to extract from him if he does make it to the Senate?

Somehow I don't think Marylanders can afford to find out the answer to that question.

Throw in Mr. Steele's lack of concern about the public message sent by Gov. Robert Ehrlich's ties to all-white social clubs, and one wonders, exactly, what it would take to get Mr. Steele to express any kind of dissatisfaction with anything a Republican does. There's nothing mainstream about being an enabler to extremism, and it's increasingly apparent that Mr. Steele's "moderation" is about as credible as those pelted-by-Oreos stories his campaign floated several months ago.

Michael Steele is little more than a warmer, more polished version of Alan Keyes, the multiple failure in Republican elections. Just because the shrill radicalism isn't obvious doesn't mean it's not there. Make no mistake about it - if this man gets into the Senate, he will march in blind lockstep with all of the other rubber-stamp Republicans currently infesting both houses of Congress.

We're talking officials like Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who equates global-warming discussions with Third Reich-style propaganda. What is it about conservatives and their fondness for Nazi analogies?

And as we've seen the last five years, such a formula has proven to be a disaster for America, as we've become mired in record deficits, a failed foreign policy, increased poverty, rampant corruption, government incompetence, and a steady degradation of our infrastructure.

Our current Congress is little more than a bunch of Republican automatons at this point, having completely abdicated the concept of serving as a check on executive power grabs.

We won't solve that problem by voting in new Republican automatons.

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