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.