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STEELE TURNING TIDE IN RNC

March 15, 2009

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By Michele Waddell

The tide is definitely turning in America. Just over 45 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. King spoke of an America where blacks and whites would live in harmony. Michael Steele was almost five years old. On January 20th, 2009 America saw the inauguration of its first multi-racial president. Ten days later, that once-little boy who heard King’s words became the first African-American Chairman for the Republican National Committee – the first African-American chair of any major political party in America.

Michael Steele, born October 19, 1958 at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, DC, came from humble beginnings. His mother Maebell, the daughter of southern sharecroppers, was a widowed laundress. She married John Turner after Steele’s birth; Turner also had a daughter. The family lived in a quiet suburb in northwest Washington.

Despite family tragedy during his infancy, Steele enjoyed a typical childhood. He attended church, participated in his school’s glee club and drama productions, was an Honor Society member, and was the Student Council President in high school. He received an academic scholarship from John Hopkins University, where he became well-liked by his peers. They elected him Class President during his freshman year. But due to an active social life, he struggled and was nearly expelled. Determined to get back on track, he took summer classes until he graduated with a degree in International Relations.

With politics far from his mind, Steele spent the next three years of his life as a seminarian in preparation for the Priesthood at the Order of St. Augustine and the Augustinian Friars Seminary in Pennsylvania. Once he began teaching World History and Economics while at seminary, he found a calling to pursue a career in law. Steele left the seminary and earned a Jurist Doctorate from Georgetown University in 1991.

Politically, Michael Steele was raised a Democrat. But his Republican values came from his mother, who worked for minimum wage rather than accept public assistance. As a young man, he joined the Republican Party, where he quickly became Chairman of the Prince George County Republican Central Committee. A man of firsts, Steele became the first African-American elected chairman of any state Republican Party by winning the seat of Chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. In 2003, he became not only the first African-American, but the first Republican to serve as Maryland’s Lieutenant Governor.

Steele continues to gain notoriety with his oratory skills and sharp wit. Thomas Steele recently wrote “Michael Steele not only knows how to talk…he seems to understand the need to talk. In his appearances on television over the years, he has been assertive rather than apologetic. When attacked, he has counterattacked – not whined defensively like too many other Republicans. When criticizing the current administration, Steele won’t have to pull his punches when going after Barack Obama for fear of being called a racist.” While the slogan, “Drill Baby Drill” conjures up images of Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin for many, credit for this campaign slogan actually goes to Michael Steele, who coined the phrase during the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Steele faces a tough road as RNC Chairman. He understands popular disenchantment with the Republican Party. He refuses to shy away from tough issues, continuing to advocate for the Iraq War and calculated economic recovery. Shortly after Obama won the 2008 election, Steele said, “…we must be mindful that self-inflicted wounds not only distract us from regaining our strength as a Party, but further diminish our credibility with an increasingly diverse community of voters. As RNC Chairman, I want us to be a lot smarter about such things and more appreciative that our actions always speak louder than our words.” Many believe that Michael Steele is “the one” who will change the Republican Party; we wish him the best of luck.

Michele Waddell is a senior Philosophy major.

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