Friday, October 16, 2009

Steele at Bliss: the old-new-old GOP

THERE WAS something surreal about Michael Steele's visit to Akron Thursday night. Speaking in E. J. Thomas hall as a guest of the University of Akron and Bliss Institute, the Republican National Committee chairman briefly acknowledged Akron native Ray Bliss's leadership in rebuilding the party after its 1964 Goldwater disaster. Still, even with the passage of more than four decades, and with the ghost of Ray Bliss hovering over the event, it was easy enough to sense that Steele had arrived not to praise the past but to slay the image of a GOP that sloughs off the common folks to enrich the wealthy.

Against heavy odds (Walter Lippmann said it would be at least a 25 years before the party could think about returning to power after 1964), Bliss immediately, and without much public notice, set about to reassembling the GOP's broken parts into a cohesive whole. A taciturn fellow who was never inclined to hog the scene, Bliss was fastidiously self disciplined to the point of shyness., At the party dinners, never a fork nor spoon on the head table was permitted to be out of place.

On the other hand , standing on the stage as the latest successor of the Republican Party's most successful strategist, Steele offered his courteously attentive audience (mostly Republican, it appeared) little more than what we've been hearing from Republicans since the election. The party , he insisted, favors lower taxes, entrepreneurism,the true spirit of free enterprise, unquestioned wealth for the people at the top of the pyramid, and individual responsibility. As with the late Gov. Jim Rhodes, profit should never be a dirty word, he said, although I don't know many people, including me, who think it is.

For Steele, the rebuilding process could be even more difficiult as it was for Bliss as he speaks with concern for rabid groups, reminding us that they are frustrated because nobody is listening to their problems. When he does that, with the shorthand of political jabs that raises the specter of Big Brother and tax-guzzling Democrats, it is not a fresh approach to their problems but rather no approach at all. To make his case, he asked the audience if there was anybody who didn't like a little more money in his pocket. When nobody raised a hand, he considered it a vindication of his anti-tax defense. (These guys never ask whether anyone preferred to ride on dirt roads, cross rickety bridges, have nobody answer the emergency phone at the fire department or have the Pony Express deliver the mail only one day a week - services which, the last time I looked , are only possible through taxes.

He also fussed over the Obama Administration' s "rush" to pass health care reform, declaring that the President wants to accomplish it in 30 to 45 days - which , we all know, has been knocked about for nearly a year - and much longer for the Republican pols who had many opportunities to change things for the better when they occupied the White House and Congress.

Steele referred to his own meager childhood, which, with help from his mother, enabled him to become a successful African-American. He urged the audience, whites as well as the handful of blacks, to take control of their own lives for a brighter future.

When a woman asked him how a poor family with no job and no health insurance could pay for health coverage, Steele assured her that his party is working on a solution to the problem . These are always good cover lines to get to the next question. But can anyone deny that the party is no more progressive with an African-American at the RNC in order to show that the party has expanded its base? Sitting in the front row was Bob Bennett, the former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. It must have been 25 years ago that he boasted to me, in a mild act of contrition, how the party was going to expand its base. Seeing Steele, I had to ask, This is finally how they did it?

Whatever is happening within the party's back rooms to reach out to a more diverse electorate is still puzzling to me. It's too bad that Einstein didn't solve the mystery of "hidden variables" in his research. It might tell us what Steele & Co. all means.


Anonymous said...

The Republicans want to get past the health care debate. They have successfully killed it every time it has been brought to the forefront. They kill it now and it won't come back to the agenda for another 10-15 year cycle.

Anonymous said...

Also, while Ray Bliss may be a favorite of local Republican leadership, it was Rogers Morton who did the actual work of rebuilding the national party. Bliss merely oversaw the fall of the party during the Barry Goldwater conservative purity movement.

Grumpy Abe said...

Sorry, but I think there is very little evidence that Bliss "merely oversaw the fall of the party..." He didn't become chairman until 1965, the year after the Goldwater movement failed to produce a winner and left the party in tatters. Most political historians, might agree with a scholarly paper delivered in 2008 by Prof. Brian Conley of Suffolk University, Boston, that said, in part:

"At the time of his appointment, Bliss inherited a defeated and bitterly divided party. Despite this Bliss was able to swiftly reorganize the party his first year in office, concluding with a surprizing Republican revival in the 1966 mid-term elections. "

chien lunatique said...

Hey, Anonyass,
Unless you have a crystal ball or foresight you do not know how the health care debate will end. Your claim that it has been killed is as asinine as you are. 2009 is not 1992. There is no comparison even if you wish it were so. Who will rid us of these meddlesome wingnuts? They contribute nothing and are the bane of our Republic.