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Political Animal

Deeds and Words

By Brian Morton | Posted 7/5/2006

The state of Maryland's motto, "Fatti maschii, parole femine," once you get past the sexist literal translation from the Italian, means "deeds, not words." What you do matters more than what you say, it tells us. Right now the team running the state are an interesting contrast when you hold them up against their deeds and words.

Michael Steele, the lieutenant governor, is currently a man of few words, and it's easy to see why. Nearly every time he opens his mouth in public, something slips out that shows either willful ignorance or breathtaking insensitivity. Steele has estimated that he will need some 25 percent of the state's African-American vote in order to win the race for U.S. Senate. We're not big on predictions here at Animal Control, but we feel fairly safe in saying for the record: He ain't getting it.

It was a year ago this week that Steele really stepped in it big time-back when his boss and partner, Gov. Robert Ehrlich, held a fundraiser at the Elkridge Club, which in its 127-year history at the time had never admitted a black member. Ehrlich called the flap "all a bunch of nothing," which is about what we'd expect him to say, so it wasn't exactly shocking.

Steele, however, being a person of color, was someone you might expect to be more sensitive. But the lieutenant governor, the man who says he needs a full quarter of the black vote, said, "I don't know that much about the club, the membership, nor do I care, quite frankly, because I don't play golf. It's not an issue with me."

Fast-forward a year, and Steele now tends to shy away from public appearances where he might be forced to talk about actual issues facing Marylanders. For the most part, he has been traipsing around the state and the country raising money from deep-pocketed GOP fat cats in order to finance fall TV commercials in which he won't have to make personal attacks himself-he can just say he authorized the ad.

Despite his careful strategy of avoiding any confrontation, Steele once again proved that when it comes to the historical concerns of his own people-and we're talking recent history here-he still has a tin ear.

Sixteen years ago, race-baiting Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina was in a tight reelection race against the black mayor of Charlotte, Harvey Gantt. Neck and neck in the polls, eight days before Election Day, Helms ran a TV ad that implied that black people were taking jobs away from white people thanks to quotas allegedly supported by Gantt. The ad showed a pair of white hands crushing a rejection letter, while the voice-over narration said, "You needed that job, but they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair? Gantt says it is."

The man who put together that ad, Alex Castellanos, gave Steele money at a fundraiser on June 22-a fundraiser hosted by Floyd Brown, the man who funded the infamous "Willie Horton" ad used by George H.W. Bush against Michael Dukakis in 1988.

When questioned on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes, about the "white hands" ad, Steele again displayed ignorance and tone deafness. Steele told host Alan Colmes, "I have no idea what that commercial is about, because I wasn't involved in that race."

Here's a clue for the man who wants to be the next senator from the seventh state to ratify the Constitution: Pay some attention to history. We expect our representatives in the upper chamber of Congress to know things about events that they haven't participated in-it's called "learning."

Why do so many Republicans miss the whole point of what government is supposed to do for people-"Hey, if it didn't happen to me, then why should I care?" Perhaps it's because they have no social conscience. But blacks in America, with our unique history, have often been either under the brunt of de jure government racism-the status quo for much of the nation's history-or have benefited from a caring government that helps to reduce poverty, racism, hunger, and despair for all its citizens. But those with a "it didn't affect me" attitude, like that of Steele's, only see government as something that should get out of their way.

Steele sees his race only as the means to an end: to be the junior senator from Maryland. Ehrlich only saw Steele as a means to get elected, because with no elected experience, Steele certainly wasn't going to be the future gubernatorial hope of the Republican Party should Ehrlich go on to win a second term. And with his deeds, Ehrlich, like he did before, said he doesn't care about what happens after him when he named Kristin Cox his new running mate, because a 36-year-old woman with no elected experience will not be the standard-bearer of the Maryland Republican Party in 2010 either.

Steele and Ehrlich-two of a kind. Both their deeds and words betray them.

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The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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