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Steele and Reid: Partners in Pickledom

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Rick Horowitz
January 12, 2010

If Michael Steele can pull himself away from bashing Harry Reid, he really should take a moment to dash off a thank-you note—to Harry Reid.


Without Harry Reid, Michael Steele would be looking at another week of whispers about his rocky reign as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Which is only fair because, without Michael Steele, Harry Reid would have been looking a full week of panicky chatter about the Senate majority leader’s likely-to-be-shrinking Senate majority.


Got all that? OK then.


You’ve got to hand it to Steele: He’s demonstrated remarkable survival skills over the past few days, deflecting incoming fire and leading the assault on somebody else. What makes it even more impressive, of course, is that the incoming fire was coming from his own side—from “fellow” Republicans—who were tired of Steele’s feet constantly sharing space with his mouth. But by racing to the front of the Reid-bashing crowd, he’s got those same Republicans (at least temporarily) covering his back, instead of throwing knives at it.


Still with me? Good.


Things, you see, were looking pretty bleak for Reid’s Democrats just a few days ago, with sinking poll numbers and two prominent senatorial incumbents—Chris Dodd, Byron Dorgan—deciding to throw in the towel. If there wasn’t a full-tilt evacuation in progress, there was the definite sense that nervous Dems in both chambers were at least keeping an eye on the nearest exit. Republicans, meanwhile, were in full cry.


And then Michael Steele opened his mouth.


He went on TV and told Sean Hannity that he wasn’t sure the GOP could recapture the House this November, and—even more damning—wasn’t sure his party was “ready” to lead if it did.


This is called “stepping on your message.”


Steele’s fellow Republicans were livid. Suddenly the flood of Democrats-in-Disarray headlines was being interrupted by GOP-isn’t-Ready headlines, which were followed by a flood of colorful, if generally anonymous, comments about what a disaster Steele has been.


And then Michael Steele opened his mouth. Again.


He went on radio and told his critics to “Shut up.” To “Get a life.” He dared his critics to fire him. He sang his own praises. Again. (“I won two governorships,” he announced, which must have come as a surprise to Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell in New Jersey and Virginia, respectively, who had probably been thinking they’d had something to do with those victories, being the actual winning candidates.)


Meanwhile, the inside-the-Beltway word was that, for all the buyer’s remorse Republicans might be feeling over Steele, they were stuck with him, and for one reason above all: his race. It wouldn’t look good, some of his frustrated critics admitted, for a party with practically no prominent black faces in its leadership ranks—or its followership ranks, for that matter—to send its highly visible one-and-only packing.


And then Harry Reid opened his mouth.


Or more precisely, quotes from Harry Reid’s mouth circa 2008 made it into a brand-new book. There was Reid assessing—positively, as it happens—the national electoral potential of one particular “light-skinned” African-American who spoke “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”


So now the Steele-is-a-Disaster headlines could be interrupted by Reid-is-a-Racist headlines—and chief among the headline-shapers was Michael Steele. Steele was happy to point out the “double standard” at work if Reid escaped unscathed for his comments about Barack Obama, while Trent Lott, the former GOP Senate leader, had essentially had his career ended for publicly lamenting Strom Thurmond’s unsuccessful presidential campaign of 1948.


When Thurmond ran as a segregationist.


Lott’s remarks were exactly the same as Reid’s remarks, Steele insisted. Racist is racist. If Lott had to step down for what he said, Steele insisted, then so should Reid.


Which makes perfect sense, as anybody who’s spent any time lately on Saturn will tell you—Saturn being a planet, after all, and therefore exactly the same as the Earth.


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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