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March, 11th 2009

Steele said what?!

– Liz Mair

Uh-oh.  Newly installed RNC Chairman Michael Steele went and gave an interview to GQ in which he said some stuff that's likely piss off social conservatives, in particular.

Now, everyone's going nuts about it, meaning another case of moderate-friendly Steele being chastized by some conservative voices online and becoming topic of the night on cable news channels.  Teh awesome!

Seriously, though, what did Steele say?  Well, for starters, re: homosexuality, he said these things:

"It’s your nature. You can’t—I can’t deny you your nature."

"you just can’t simply say, oh, like, 'Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being gay.' It’s like saying, 'Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being black.'”

Oh, and also, this might bother some social conservatives still angling for a Federal Marriage Amendment of some variety:

"Just as a general principle, I don’t like mucking around with the Constitution."

Also, though, Steele said the below on abortion (the topic where his comments seem to be garnering the most attention):

"I think that’s an individual choice."

"I think Roe v. Wade—as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter."

and:

"The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide."

I have some thoughts on all this. [intro]

First, and foremost, I'm somewhat shocked and yet pleased to see a sitting RNC Chairman explicitly state that homosexuality is not, in his view, a choice, and take what sounds like a moderately pro-choice, but anti-Roe position.  I basically agree with these positions, though it is rare to find a Republican of any prominence who will take both, exactly, and I can't think of any interview I've ever read or heard where they have both been voiced in that sitting.  It's nice to know I may not be the only one (or one of just ten) in the GOP who holds these views.

That being said, I am not the Chairman of the RNC... so while I think this is good, I suspect I'm one of about three Republicans operating in the blogosphere (the conservative side of which tends to be populated by, well, conservatives, and frequently activist ones, too) who does.  And so, even while I agree with Steele, I do query the wisdom in him voicing the opinions he has-- the abortion position, in particular (well, really just that... the homosexuality not being a choice thing might tick off some people, but I suspect a whole lot fewer than it would have a few years ago).  Abortion is, I believe, an issue that inspires much stronger emotions on the whole than do gay marriage and other areas of policy impacting on gays and lesbians, as a particular group (e.g., the ability of employers to discriminate against them), not least because for a good number of people involved in the debate, its legality is literally seen as a matter of life and death (this is not a knock on those who see abortion in these terms; it's a statement of fact).  And whether I like it or not, a lot of people who are Republican are because of the line the party has tended to take on the abortion issue.  People should say what they think; I obviously value diversity within the GOP, including in its leadership ranks; but this is exactly the kind of thing a lot of conservatives feared they might be getting with Steele (OK, one of the things they feared they might be getting) and which he, and his staff, worked hard to convince them they were not getting in the course of the RNC Chairman's race.  And it could result in a fresh bout of lacking-in-confidence and demoralization-about-the-leadership among the Party base, right on the heels of rumors (somewhat discredited, to be fair, and ones of whose veracity I remain wholly unconvinced) that an effort would be forthcoming to remove Steele-- almost certainly not what he wants, or needs, right now.

There's another point here, too.  I've already heard from several fellow bloggers that on the abortion point, specifically, Steele's comments can be read to suggest he doesn't really know what he thinks-- arguably the most problematic position of all among pro-lifers.  Matt Lewis just posted something to this effect, in fact:

Then, he goes on to sort of backtrack from that, essentially making an argument that it is, in fact, not an individual choice, but a state's choice:

Are you saying you don't want to overturn Roe v. Wade?
I think Roe v. Wade-as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.

Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?
The states should make that choice. That's what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.

Do pro-choicers have a place in the Republican Party?
Absolutely!

I'm not sure if it is more concerning that Steele is pro-choice -- or that he is unsure of his position on the Life issue.

This is relevant because during the campaign, Steele came under fire (from bloggers like me) for being a co-chair of the Republican Leadership Council, a pro-choice group affiliated with Christine Todd Whitman. Steele's line was essentially that he is a "Pro-Life Roman Catholic Conservative"

I'm not sure I actually agree with this.  I think what Steele was trying to say was "I think abortion is an individual choice.  But whether or not that is recognized as the legal position is a matter for the states.  If abortion is an individual choice, it is a choice, the right to which is properly determined at the state, not federal, level."  But Steele was doing a GQ interview, not typing out a blog post-- so his wording is not quite as clear as mine.  If he was trying to say that, that is a perfectly valid and not-inconsistent or contradictory position to hold (I personally think that women should be able to get an abortion-- i.e., that they should have an individual choice-- during the first 2-3 months of a pregnancy, but that that should be legislated and dealt with at the state, as opposed to federal, level).  And it would be my guess that that was where he was trying to go.

Though I could be proved wrong.  We could easily see a retraction or clarification tomorrow (either because Steele flubbed this and said something he genuinely didn't mean to, or because what he said, even if genuinely felt, presents big political liabilities).  And then there's this: my good friend Phil Klein (from the American Spectator) tweets:

when steele talks to MSM, seems his first instinct is just to say what sounds "moderate," without given it any thought.

I'm not sure how to opine on this.  In light of the comments he made about Rush, and what his end position on that turned out to be, and in light of some comments that sounded pretty moderate-friendly that I recall him making during his debate with Ben Cardin on Meet The Press in 2006 (in fact, I think, on abortion), Phil could in fact turn out to be right.  If he is, this is a bigger problem that Steele having said some moderate-sounding things he meant.  I guess we shall see...

UPDATE: Welcome, if you've clicked over from RedState, the Moderate Voice, or the American Spectator.  Note that I've posted on this further today-- please do check out.

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