Michael Steele vs. the Liberals

Steele inarticulately attempts to repair his image after an op-ed, and liberals move in for the kill

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This has not been a good week for Michael Steele. What started out as a simple Monday morning op-ed aiming to win seniors for a Republican view of health care reform has turned into a series of liberal field days involving a Washington Post columnist, an unhelpful Fox News appearance, NPR, and what appears to be the entire left half of the blogosphere.

Round 1

Steele's original Washington Post op-ed ran under the headline "Protecting Our Seniors." Alleging that Obama was plotting to "raid, not aid, Medicare by cutting $500 billion from the program to fund his health-care experiment," Steele outlined a plan for a Seniors' Health Care Bill of Rights:

  1. "Protect Medicare"
  2. "Prohibit government from getting between seniors and their doctors"
  3. "Outlaw any effort to ration health care based on age"
  4. "Prevent government from dictating the terms of end-of-life care"
  5. "Protect our veterans by preserving Tricare and other benefit programs for military families"

Sound reasonable? Left-leaning and declared liberal bloggers and journalists didn't think so, and promptly attacked:

  • Lower Standards for Public Figures  "I  understand," began the Atlantic's Conor Clarke, "why the standards for an op-ed published by a public figure [...] in a major American newspaper [...] would by lower than normal. But I still think that, when one such op-ed gets published, it's important to be just as cruel as normal about its flaws and failings. Right then." Taking himself at his own word, Clarke proceeded to tear Steele apart for, among other things, his scenario leaving end-of-life care to seniors, families, and doctors that, "as it happens, [...] describes the current House bill."
  • Medicare Is a Government Program  Slate's Timothy Noah lambasted Steele for his adoption of the "Medicare-isn't-government meme."
  • This Is Almost Funny, declared Washington Monthly's Steve Benen, saying that the line "GOP now promising to protect seniors' Medicare from Dems" made him laugh.
Steele says Medicare faces long-term shortfalls, but he opposes efforts to address them. He condemns boards that could deny Medicare financing for some treatments, but fails to note that such boards already exist and have for years. If one sifts through the nonsense, looking for something substantive, what we're left with is Steele's uninformed opposition to the creation of an Independent Medicare Advisory Council (IMAC).
  • Secret Republican Plan  The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein produced a Wednesday column that pulled no punches. The "inescapable inference," he wrote, attached to Steele's proposal to spend "an ever-increasing share of the federal budget, and the national income, on Medicare" was that "the government would run out of money for every other domestic program sometime around 2035." He continued, reviewing the article, to ask "exactly what health reform plan Steele thought he was attacking. [...] Where is he getting this stuff?" Still having insufficiently expressed his distaste for the chairman, he concluded, "Have you no shame, sir? Have you no shame?"

Unfortunately, Steele's television follow-up to the op-ed didn't help matters, leading Timothy Noah to post the following:

Update, 10:15: On Fox News today Steele abandoned the Medicare-good, government-bad distinction and admitted that he just can't stand Medicare.

Round 2

Very few people wake up on a Monday morning prepared to take on the entire online American Left. As Michael Steele painfully continued to illustrate, neither do many people wake up on a Thursday morning prepared to take on the entire online American Left.

Steele began his appearance on NPR this morning with a strong condemnation of "raiding a program that's already bankrupt to pay for another program that we can't afford." The conversation, however, which ended with host Steve Inskeep lecturing the chairman on his apparent misunderstanding of the word "nuanced," failed to impress Steele's critics:

  • Chairman Steele Once Again Demonstrates How Astute He Is  "To address the embarrassment from his own words," Politics Daily's Bob  Franken explained, "he went on NPR this morning to make sure nobody has the slightest idea what he was talking about. Mission accomplished."
  • Wouldn't Have Been Easy Even if He Were Astute  Talking Points Memo's David Kurtz argued that explaining how the GOP "wants to preserve Medicare against cuts, while also cutting Medicare and opposing government-run health care programs in general" would have been "an impossible dance for anyone." So is he giving the chairman a break? No. "Hard to believe this guy really is head of a major American political party."
  • Thoroughly Deserved It  Steele, wrote Amanda Terkel at Think Progress, has been incoherently playing both sides of both death panel "soundbites" and Medicare "cost-cutting savings" for weeks. "In today's interview, all those positions finally caught up with him."
  • The Meaning of 'Nuanced'  Sara Smith Wonkette meanwhile found the NPR interview delightful: "This is a precious, precious little exchange between walking human lexicon Steve Inskeep and double-talking Medicare clown Michael Steele, who does not understand that 'nuanced' is not a naturally derogatory term."
  • Downright Stupid  No one was happier with the NPR fiasco than Steve Benen, a repeat player from Round 1. Cackling over Steele's 24-hour shift from arguing that Medicare was "a) a great government program that Democrats are trying to undermine and the GOP is trying to protect; and b) a terrible program that doesn't work and should probably be privatized," he delivered the knockout blow:  "Let this be a lesson to all of us--when major political parties are looking for a chairman or chairwoman, it's not a good idea to pick someone conspicuously unintelligent."

Good grief. The Atlantic Wire hereby recommends that Michael Steele take Ta-Nehisi Coates's advice to the besieged Niall Ferguson, another casualty of recent blogging wars: "for God's sake, stop digging." At least until both sides can step back and reload.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.