Politics & Policy

A Horse of a Different Color

Maryland's Michael Steele and the courage of the black Republican.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the December 5, 2005, issue of National Review.

As a black Republican, Michael Steele is used to taunts and attacks. Over the years, he has developed skin that is not only black but thick as well. “I’m not an elephant for nothing,” he notes. Steele, the lieutenant governor of Maryland, will need that elephant’s skin for the campaign he has just launched. He’s running for the U.S. Senate, hoping to succeed Democrat Paul Sarbanes, who is retiring after five terms.

On the day he announced his Senate candidacy, all hell broke loose. Steve Gilliard is a popular blogger in New York, running a left-wing site called The News Blog. He ran a doctored photo of Steele, depicting him as a hideous minstrel. The caption underneath said, “I’s Simple Sambo and I’s running for the Big House.” Nice, huh? But hardly novel for Mike Steele. When he ran for lieutenant governor in 2002, he was pelted with Oreo cookies. (Get it? Black on the outside, white on the inside.) The president of the state senate, Thomas V. “Mike” Miller–white, as it happens–called him “the personification of an Uncle Tom.” (He later apologized.) The Baltimore Sun, in an infamous editorial, said, “[Steele] brings little to the team but the color of his skin.”

What triggered the most recent rage over Steele was, first, the fact of his running for the U.S. Senate, and, second, a restoking of the Elkridge Country Club controversy. The Elkridge Country Club? You’ll find it in greater Baltimore, and the governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, held a fundraiser there in June. At the time, the club had no black members. It does now–in part, one may presume, because Ehrlich, Steele, and other influential figures asked the club to get with it.

Today, Ehrlich explains that he holds fundraisers all over the state, including at golf clubs, and he has not been in the habit of scrutinizing membership lists, or inquiring about race. What he inquires about is price: He’s interested in the lowest costs on, for example, greens fees and food. . .

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