You Reap What You Sow

The RNC has no one but itself to blame for Michael Steele’s outlandish behavior

The discovery that $2,000 was spent on the tab of the Republican National Committee at Voyeur West Hollywood, an exclusive lesbian-bondage-themed nightclub in Los Angeles, is only the latest in a long line of ridiculous scandals that have broken out under the questionable leadership of RNC Chair Michael Steele. While Steele was not personally responsible for this particularly embarrassing expenditure, his tenure has been generally characterized by childish extravagance and gaffes that put even Vice President Biden to shame.

Some may remember that Steele, the first African American party chair, was elected by members of the RNC over paler selections like South Carolina RNC Chair Katon Dawson or Michigan RNC Chair Saul Anuzis, for what some considered to be racial reasons. Many believed that the party’s logic was as follows: The pick of an African American like Steele or former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, in the wake of President Obama’s historic election, could mitigate the growing perception of the Republican Party as composed of Southern white males. This alleged belief that appointing a black spokesperson could resolve minority qualms with the party—as if the only reason why minorities are not receptive to the Republican brand is poor messaging, rather than fundamental policy differences—was highly misguided. It is only just, therefore, that the RNC has suffered so much unintentional humiliation at the hands of the man they appointed out of what seem to be ulterior motives.

Almost immediately upon his selection, Steele proceeded to put his foot in his mouth, selling his vision of a more pluralistic GOP in offensively stereotypical racial terminology. His greatest hits include boasting of his “off the hook” plan to reach out to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings,” offering to woo blacks into the party with “fried chicken and potato salad,” and saying President Obama’s stimulus program “is just a wish list from a lot of people who have been on the sidelines for years…to get a little bling, bling.”

But even when not invoking ethnic stereotypes, Steele’s uncontrollable logorrhea has never failed to undermine the Republican message. For example, during the debate of the Democrats’ stimulus plan, Steele audaciously proclaimed that “You and I know that in the history of mankind and womankind, government—federal, state, local, or otherwise—has never created one job. It’s destroyed a lot of them. It’s hampered a lot of them.” This is a curious statement considering that the very job that Steele ran for in 2006—United States senator from Maryland—was a government job.

But if Steele’s gaffes were his only failings, perhaps there would be a lot less talk about removing him from his position as RNC chair. Under Steele’s chairmanship, spending on frivolities like limousines, catering, and even flowers for extravagant events at pricy hotels has doubled, and, in a much-criticized move, the annual winter meeting of the RNC was relocated from Washington to a resort in Hawaii. “Bondage-gate” may be more colorful than these other misallocations of donor funds, but it is far from being the first or even the most wasteful example of recent RNC profligacy.


But, there is a uniquely hypocritical aspect of this latest scandal. As the self-proclaimed party of the traditional family, and with many Republican office-holders owing their positions in large part to the RNC, it is duplicitous for Republicans to campaign on moral values while taking funds from a committee guilty of such exotic debauchery. And in the wake of the sex scandals of Nevada Senator John Ensign and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, it appears doubly hypocritical. This behavior does not exemplify the values of the Republican base.

While the Democratic Party is also guilty of similar behavior, including the Democratic National Committee’s own, milder profligacy and the groping scandal of former New York Congressman Eric Massa, the Democrats do not profess to be the vanguard of traditional values and fiscal responsibility. For their own good, therefore, Republicans ought to urge the RNC to remove Michael Steele and replace him with someone better able to exemplify the qualities they wish to sell to voters.