Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele is running for the U.S. Senate. He is a Republican in a very blue state, and in order to win, he has to convince voters in this state that he’s one of those extinct Senatorial creatures: the principled, independent, moderate Republican. To this end, his race helps him; Michael Steele is African American, and it’s hard to imagine someone who has faced the challenges of being black in America, could be an unrepentant right-winger.
Of course, we know it happens. There is Clarence Thomas, after all – a guy who is two steps to the right of Justice Scalia and who makes Pat Buchanan seem like a racial progressive. But what about Michael Steele?
As the Senate race has heated up, he’s made overtures to urban voters. He recently got hip-hop legend Russell Simmons to campaign with him, while making a grand speech about how he intends to fight poverty by raising the minimum wage. (Never mind that he said nothing while the Governor vetoed a minimum wage bill this past year.) Oh, and he intends to fight poverty while lowering taxes. To hear him try to placate both urban voters and die-hard GOP loyalists at the same time was truly astonishing. A dodge to the left, a dodge to the right, it’s starting to look like The Pandering Dance.
And we can expect more of this in the next few weeks.
Steele needs to convince voters that he isn’t the same person who compared stem cell research to the holocaust. He needs to convince voters he no longer thinks that you’re not well-off if you make $200,000 a year (a real blind spot if you’re new mission is to fight poverty). He needs to convince voters that he’s not the same guy who preaches against a woman’s right to choose, even in the case of rape or incest. He needs voters to forget that he told the Maryland Gazette that he considered himself “a radical Republican.”
But more than that, he needs to convince voters that he actually stands for something. Anything, that they might approve of. Steele has done next to nothing to advance the causes he is now saying he cares about, like poverty or a minimum wage. In fact, he may actually be more famous for being the brother of Mike Tyson’s ex-wife than for any of his own accomplishments. And as for race relations? When the Governor he serves held a fundraiser at an all-white country club, Steele said, “I don’t play golf. It’s not an issue with me.”
The only issue that does seem to truly matter to the former seminarian, is gay marriage. Steele is opposed, naturally. But he has taken it a step further by whipping up crowds at gay-bashing protests. And he has called for a statewide Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage – something Marylanders are closely divided on, and which died in committee. Steele also opposes gay adoption. I’m sure that’s a comfort for god-fearing orphans who otherwise cannot find a home.
But it should not comfort Maryland voters, and these are the things they should keep in mind when heading to the polls.