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March, 12th 2009

More on Steele

– Liz Mair

Phil Klein at the AmSpec blog digs up the transcript from that Michael Steele Meet The Press appearance that I mentioned in my post last night.  Here's the relevant bit:

MR. RUSSERT: Would, would you encourage — would you hope the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade?

LT. GOV. STEELE: I think that that’s a matter that’s going to rightly belong to the courts to decide ultimately whether or not that, that issue should be addressed. The, the Court has taken a position, which I agree, stare decisis, which means that the law is as it is and, and so this is a matter that’s ultimately going to be adjudicated at the states. We’re seeing that. The states are beginning to decide for themselves on, on this and a host of other issues. And the Supreme Court would ultimately decide that.

MR. RUSSERT: But you hope that the Court keeps Roe v. Wade in place?

LT. GOV. STEELE: I think the Court will evaluate the law as society progresses, as the Court is supposed to do.

MR. RUSSERT: But what’s your position? Do you want them to sustain it or overturn it?

LT. GOV. STEELE: Well, I think, I think, I think Roe vs. Wade, Roe vs. Wade is a, is a matter that should’ve been left to the states to decide, ultimately. But it, it is where it is today, and the courts will ultimately decide whether or not this, this gets addressed by the states, goes back to the states in some form or they overturn it outright.

MR. RUSSERT: Is is your desire to keep it in place?

LT. GOV. STEELE: My desire is that we follow what stare decisis is at this point, yes.

Phil responds to this with a "Huh?" with which I am inclined to agree.

Phil tweeted last night about the nonsensicality of the comments Steele made to GQ about abortion.  At that point, I was not sold on his argument-- Phil described me as charitably thinking he was espousing a pro-choice, Anti-Roe position.  It seems that Phil and Matt Lewis did have a point, though, at least in light of the above.  Steele's comments on abortion, when made to MSM outlets in particular, do seem a tad muddled, which may suggest that a) Steele isn't the great communicator he branded himself as during the RNC Chairman's race (see Phil's comment "The mere fact that we have to have a whole debate over what he means demonstrates that he's doing a terrible job at communicating") b) Steele doesn't really have a lot of clarity in his own mind as to what he thinks about abortion and/or c) he has a bad case of wanting to be all things to all people-- a disease that is often fatal in politics. [intro]

All of these potential conclusions should be worrying, for folks inside the RNC and the party at large.  Abortion is a very contentious issue, and people on all sides of the debate will feel unconsoled by the idea of a party leader who either lacks clarity, or clarity of expression, where it is concerned.  Phil clearly has some strong views on the subject, and he's not someone to go spare on public figures at the mere drop of a hat, either.  In a follow-up post this morning, he writes:

It's not just that he's coming across as a complete jackass and alienating conservatives while failing to win over moderates, but that each minute the RNC dedicates to cleaning up a mess he created is a minute not dedicated to pointing out why President Obama's policies will ruin the health care system, stifle business, run up our debt, raise our taxes, cause inflation, and endanger our national security. He's the gift that keeps on giving for the Obama administration.

[...]

In hindsight, Mike Duncan's leadership at the RNC is looking better and better. You never heard a peep out of him. He just quietly went about doing his job, and raised a ton of money in a lousy year for Republicans.

This isn't the kind of thing the RNC needs, or wants, conservative pundits writing about it, at this delicate stage, to say the least.  And I'd hasten to point out that Phil is not the only conservative pundit or commentator who I'm aware of expressing "Bring Back Duncan" sentiment this morning, either.

Let me be clear: I agree with what Steele said about homosexuality, and with what I originally construed as the position he was espousing about abortion.  A party chief holding these views is something that would make me personally quite happy.  But this particular episode is looking like a big-league mess... and one which I daresay Mike Duncan would never have gotten within a mile of.  I don't say this to criticize Steele or tear him down (I like him a great deal personally, and still think he has attributes that are valuable as a party chairman).  But I do hope he'll recognize that he's ventured into this particular snakepit of an area without being especially clear one too many times.  Steele simply can't do this anymore if he wants to avoid looking like a buffoon who is putting the party in a position where its ability to raise money could be compromised, and where we can't plausibly advance the notion of being a big tent because conservatives and moderates think our party chairman is just saying whatever he thinks he needs to say to keep everyone happy, while doing it rather incoherently and making everyone doubt their position.

UPDATE:  Steele has issued this response, apparently:

I am pro-life, always have been, always will be.

I tried to present why I am pro life while recognizing that my mother had a "choice" before deciding to put me up for adoption. I thank her every day for supporting life. The strength of the pro life movement lies in choosing life and sharing the wisdom of that choice with those who face difficult circumstances. They did that for my mother and I am here today because they did. In my view Roe vs. Wade was wrongly decided and should be repealed. I realize that there are good people in our party who disagree with me on this issue.

But the Republican Party is and will continue to be the party of life. I support our platform and its call for a Human Life Amendment. It is important that we stand up for the defenseless and that we continue to work to change the hearts and minds of our fellow countrymen so that we can welcome all children and protect them under the law.

Matt Lewis is right.  This statement raises more questions.

Ironically, his statement -- meant to clarify -- actually raises more questions. The only reasonable conservative defense of Steele's GQ comments were that he is a Federalist (meaning that he opposed Roe, but supported state's rights). Even that defense is a weak one based on his previous statement, but I digress. But the above statement, Steele reaffirms that Steele supports the GOP platform and a Human Life Amendment, which, of course, undermines the argument that he believes states should decide...

OK, so in 2006, when he went on Meet The Press, Steele seemed to argue both states rights and that Roe v Wade should be treated as good law (I'd add the point of stare decisis is essentially irrelevant here-- it's not a hard a fast rule that the highest court in a given system has to abide by its previous rulings... that's why NARAL flips out every time there's a hint of a new nominee to SCOTUS being required).  Now, he's saying that even though he called abortion an individual choice, but suggested the issue should be dealt with at the state level, and possibly that the "choice" might actually be the state's (frankly, I don't know what he meant anymore, I'm just guessing), he actually supports an anti-federalist Human Life Amendment, which would a) eliminate individual choice and b) eliminate state choice on the subject of abortion.

I really am questioning whether Steele knows what Steele thinks about abortion, based on all this.  If he doesn't, he's probably one of ten adults in the entire US in that position.  If he does, he's doing a great job of confusing the heck out of everyone reading any of this.  He either needs to get a position-- emphasis on "a"-- now, or he needs to figure out how to articulate it, vaguely. 

Note that this is also pertinent to the issue of what, if anything, he thinks needs to be done in terms of banning gay marriage.  In his GQ interview, Steele indicated he didn't like "mucking" around with the Constitution.  Based on his statement this morning, it appears he actually does.

UPDATE NO. 2: James Richardson spots that the GQ interview was done on February 24, before Steele wound up in a bust up with Rush Limbaugh.  I'm sure some will point to that and say "oh, but Steele was so early in his term," to which I say a) he'd already run for US Senate, served as Maryland's Lieutenant Governor, and should have had a handle on his abortion position/language to accurately describe it/the need to not say different things to different constituencies in an age of modern communication where it's so easy to be caught out and b) whatever-- Steele was supposed to be the ace communicator, ready to communicate well, from day one. 

No, the real significance of the February 24 date is, as Andrew Sullivan correctly notes, that this is the exact same day on which he gave an interview in which he said, in response to a question about whether he favored civil unions, "No, no no. What would we do that for? What are you, crazy? No. Why would we backslide on a core, founding value of this country? I mean this isn't something that you just kind of like, 'Oh well, today I feel, you know, loosey-goosey on marriage,'" and indicated that he didn't see any difference between civil unions and marriage (suggesting he opposes both).  I called him out for that on this blog, in fact.  So, he gave that interview on the same day that he gave the interview to GQ in which he says "Well, my position is, hey, look, I have been, um, supportive of a lot of my friends who are gay in some of the core things that they believe are important to them. You know, the ability to be able to share in the information of your partner, to have the ability to—particularly in times of crisis—to manage their affairs and to help them through that as others—you know, as family members or others—would be able to do. I just draw the line at the gay marriage."  The GQ response sounds a lot like he favors the kind of things that typically are associated with partnership agreements and at least basic aspects of legally recognized civil unions.  Maybe Steele doesn't have a firm grasp on some of the basic elements that tend to be associated with civil unions.  Or maybe he's just saying two (seemingly different) things to two (seemingly different) constituencies.   Or maybe he's in favor of legally recognizing partnership agreements that allow the things detailed in his GQ interview, but nothing more than that, and just hasn't managed to explain that in a very clear fashion.  I'm not sure.  But that kind of gets at the point, right?

UPDATE NO. 3: It would appear that Steele actually gave the interview where he said things that could be read as anti-civil union on February 23, not February 24.  So, he didn't seemingly contradict himself on a hot-button social issue on the same day, but rather in the course of two days... or something...

UPDATE NO. 4: Dan Riehl emails me a link to his post, which links to a Think Progress post containing audio of the interview that Steele did in which he says "no" to civil unions... but in which he also seems to say "yes" to gay couples using contract law, powers of attorney and such.  Take a listen. 

Having heard this, I don't actually think there is the inconsistency I pointed to above in terms of Steele's statements regarding gay couples.  I stand corrected on that point (though I feel obliged to point out that what does appear to be Steele's consistent position on the matter of marriage/civil unions/partnership agreements is not one that I agree with).  However, the abortion comments still seem pretty inconsistent and confusing.

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