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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, March 26, 2006

I no longer have to make fun of him


The Steele campaign staff

The Times has an article on Michael Steele which mentions me obliquely. But given the way he campaigns, we can move away from race and on to character and tactics. He'd rather discuss race when it all boils down. I no longer have to mock him, I just have to report what he says.


There was one family-related topic I wondered how Steele would handle. It's not unusual for politicians to have embarrassing relatives, but Steele's ex-brother-in-law is Mike Tyson, who served time in prison for rape and, famously, bit part of an opponent's ear off. Steele didn't at all mind talking about him. He is a man of grand themes, and one of them is family — which in his mind Tyson still is. "Let me tell you about Mike Tyson," he began when I asked what it was like being the former champ's brother-in-law. He was smiling, and it was clear that the subject genuinely delighted him. "He is one of the most engaging and smartest guys I have ever had a chance to go toe to toe with in a debate. The first conversation I ever had with him, you know what we talked about? The philosophy of Mao Zedong."

He moved on that day from Fruitland to the even smaller town of Pittsville (and another sewage-treatment plant) and finally to Salisbury State University, and it was at that last stop, in front of an audience of students, that he showed yet another side of himself — the candidate as a man under siege, attacked for daring to blaze a new trail. "You know what it's like to be called an Uncle Tom because you're a black Republican?" he asked. He told them about what occurred in 2002 as he watched Ehrlich debate his Democratic opponent at Morgan State University in Baltimore. "Folks started throwing Oreo cookies at me" — the Oreo, black on the outside, white on the inside, being intended to slur someone who has betrayed his race.

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.

Other incidents are not in dispute. A liberal African-American blogger in New York posted a crude, doctored photo of Steele with the caption "I's Simple Sambo and I's running for the Big House" — easily ignored except that it triggered stories in The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun and other papers that circulate in Maryland. Last fall, two staff members at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee resigned after it was revealed that they had obtained copies of Steele's credit report.

Steele is, of course, a big, inviting target. And fair game. There may also be a sense that he could unravel if pressed. He is sometimes careless with facts — at Salisbury State, he told students concerned with rising tuition that he had gone to college "in the days of 25 percent inflation" (it actually ranged between 6.5 percent and 13.6 percent during his college years at Johns Hopkins, from 1977 to 1981) — and he has a tendency to gravitate toward the kind of rhetorical minefields that more practiced public figures avoid. After speaking to a Jewish group in Baltimore last month, he had to apologize for seeming to draw a parallel between embryonic-stem-cell research and Nazi-era human experimentation. Two weeks later, at the tea shop in Prince George's County, he spoke about how black people do not always support black-owned businesses. "You know how it goes," he said. "Six months and it's gone. What happened to the chicken joint? The Chinese are now serving us chicken."

He seemed to catch himself heading into dangerous territory. "Nothing against the Chinese," he quickly added.

Whatever.

Steele is quickly shaping up to be an absolutely horrible candidate.

On the list of scary, crazy black people, Mike Tyson heads the list. If I were running for Senate in a blue state, as a Republican, I wouldn't talk about how great my convicted rapist brother-in-law was. Does he think that's gonna go unremarked?

Then the slip about the Chinese was not good either.

Let's get this clear, anyone can be a racist, black, white, latino. When you imply that a Chinese owned business is less desireable than a black one, you're being stupid.

I won't lie, batting him around for being an Uncle Ruckus clone is amusing, but is now irrelevant. The more he opens his mouth, the bigger the disaster coming is.

The whole stem cell thing was amazing. This is an educated man, yet he's amazingly careless with words. Some call that lack of polish, but it could also be a second-rate mind. It seems that he's unaware of other opinions. That crack might go down in a barber shop, but an elected official is held to a higher standard.

Steele isn't ready for prime time, regardless of his craven loyalty to the GOP. If he was a Dem, I'd make just as much fun of a campaign this doomed.

posted by Steve @ 12:03:00 AM

12:03:00 AM

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