News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Stephanie Salter

July 7, 2010

STEPHANIE SALTER: What a shock! Fact-challenged Republican criticizes President Obama

TERRE HAUTE — We’ve got the Democrats on the run — and they are desperate. They will do or say anything to hold onto power.

from a GOP fund-raising plea by Rep. John Boehner

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why everybody — except Ron Paul and a Utah Republican committeeman named Bruce Hough — is so upset with Michael Steele.

So what if the chairman of the National Republican Committee made an ill-advised, mostly inaccurate and way off-base statement last week about President Obama and the war in Afghanistan? Since when did criticism of Obama (or any other Democrat) by a Republican have to be accurate or even founded in reality?

Why is Steele being held to a higher standard than the rest of the GOP?

To be fair, the accuracy and appropriateness of just about any comment made by any politician these days isn’t much of a priority. Republican, Democrat, Independent or Tea Partier, the bar is very low for facts and context.

But Republicans have honed the off-base, warped-truth broadside into an art form over the years. The Karl Rovian rule — twist the truth, keep it simple and keep repeating it — is as effective today as it was in the master’s hand during his successful run in the Bush II White House.

And Fox News, with its flag-saturated coverage and its divisive polls inspired by microscopic shards of reality — Should kindergartners watch porn videos during nap time? — carries the art form to millions of viewers who want to maintain a high-resolution world view in black and white.

Consequently, the national political party that insists it stands for small government and personal responsibility is also the party that stands for dictating to American women what they may or may not do with their own wombs.

The party that held the White House and an even split or majority in Congress through six years of George W. Bush’s presidency — thus aiding and abetting the deregulated, unmonitored greed and malfeasance of the nation’s financial sector — is the party now spinning the economic crisis as Obama’s fault because he has not made it go away in 18 months.

This is similar to Afghanistan being “a war of Obama’s choosing,” as Steele put it last week at a GOP fundraiser in Connecticut. “This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” he added.

Tell that to the Taliban and al Qaida operatives who were blown up in the years following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Tell it to the 1,000-plus U.S. troops who died there, and 6,600 who were injured there, before Obama shifted the war on terror from Iraq, which had few terrorists, back to Afghanistan, which had plenty.

Tell it to at least 10,000 Afghan civilians who became collateral damage before Obama ever green-lighted a surge in December 2009.

Had the NRC chairman not added the part about a ground war in Afghanistan being unwinnable, not a word against him would have been raised. But he did add it, speaking of the president as if Obama had dreamed up his Afghanistan counterinsurgency strategy without benefit of a single military mind.

Steele’s “gaffe,” as it’s been charitably termed, drew the expected Democratic howls.

This time, though, Republicans also piled on.

None flung himself more vigorously than Sen. John McCain, the 28-year veteran of Congress and 2008 presidential candidate who is laboring mightily to portray himself during a tough re-election campaign as a Washington insider who’s really an outsider. He called Steele’s remarks “wildly inaccurate” and said “there’s no excuse for them.” 

This would be the same McCain who once fought for immigration reform, but has done a 180 on the issue. It’s the same McCain who made some of his “maverick” fame as a vociferous enemy of Washington lobbyists, but stacked his 2008 presidential campaign staff with some of the most successful and seasoned of that very ilk.

McCain’s running mate, of course, was Sarah Palin, whose name is surfacing as a possible replacement for Steele should he get the boot before his NRC chairmanship is up for renewal in January.

Palin would be a perfect choice to lead the national Republican party, and not only because her appearance at any GOP fundraiser generates big bucks and support for candidates. Palin has proven since the 2008 campaign that her rhetoric need not be grounded in reality or fact in order for her to be received as a phenomenal political success.

That skill was on extra-special display a year ago, when Palin announced she was bailing out as governor of Alaska — a little over half-way into her first term — to better serve the people of Alaska.

In an e-mailed fund-raising pitch late last month, House Minority Leader John Boehner railed mightily against “the jobs-killing agenda of President Obama and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi” and promised that Republicans would “get control of the debt, repeal ObamaCare, and help small business create new jobs.”

This was just before Republicans in Congress derailed a $19 billion fee against the financial giants who helped put us in this deep recession.

Boehner warned in his e-mail that in the coming weeks, “our Republican candidates will face a nonstop barrage of negative attacks by national Democrats and voters will be inundated with misleading propaganda from liberal special interests.”

Poor little vulnerable things, strangers as they are to negativity and misleading propaganda.

Significantly, Boehner’s e-mail pitch was not for money for the Republican National Committee. His plea was for the National Republican Congressional Committee, one of several GOP specialty committees that have gone into high gear this year, raising money around the NRC and despite Steele.

And why not? Steele has had one main function to perform since he won the NRC chairmanship in January 2009: He’s the GOP’s answer to a black Democratic president, visible proof that the political party with an African-American membership of 2 percent really is the pro-minority big tent it claims to be.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

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