Friday, March 6, 2009

Dr. Fisher's prescription

The phrase "the misadventures of Michael Steele" has a B-movie ring to it, like the title of something you'd endure on a rainy afternoon with absolutely nothing else to do. The GOP leadership no doubt wishes it was just the name of a bad movie, and not the phrase aptly describing the miscues and ham-fistedness of the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Dr. Ada Fisher, a loyal Republican, isn't having it. And in her recent internal communication with the GOP transition team and in a high-profile television interview, there's distilled in one voice all of the frustration and quiet outrage of the Republicans with the chairman of their own party, as well as a refreshingly plain-spoken challenge to the Man of Steele: Get the job done, or get out.

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Fisher, an RNC member from North Carolina, was reacting to the broad-spectrum infection of idiocy visited on the party by Steele, who was elected to his post early this year.

Most recent of the chairman's missteps was on Saturday, Feb. 28, when Steele, interviewed by CNN's D.L. Hughley, disagreed when Hughley referred to radio host Rush Limbaugh as "the de facto leader of the Republican party."

"No, he's not. I'm the de facto leader of the Republican party," Steele said. The RNC chief went on to call Limbaugh, who earlier that day delivered the keynote address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, an "entertainer" whose show is "incendiary" and "ugly." Steele was attacked on March 2 by Limbaugh on his radio show.

Steele, suitably chastened, backtracked the next day, apologizing profusely — and revealing all over again both his own inclination for rhetorical self-sabotage, and the directionless farrago that is the Republican Party of today.

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It's all led Fisher — one of only three African Americans in the RNC — to characterize her party as a "Republican horror show," and to call for Steele to step down. To quit, to exit outright, to leave the building. "I have never seen such ineptness in our GOP leadership," Fisher wrote in the e-mail, a copy of which was leaked to and published in The Hill on March 5. "And I thought we handled the 2008 elections very poorly."

The good doctor may have company. Another GOP operative (one who preferred to remain anonymous when speaking to U.S. News & World Report on March 3) said that "If [Steele's] implosion continues, RNC members are likely to call a special session to dump him for an effective chairman."

But Steele barreled ahead, in a March 5 interview in The Washington Post, rationalizing his own penchant for animosity with a sweeping new boilerplate of his own job description. "I'm in the business of ticking people off. That's why I'm chairman."

Fisher is one of the 168 Republican members of the RNC responsible for developing party platform, and coordinating fund-raising and election strategy — you know, all the things Republicans thought they hired Michael Steele to do.

It was with an apparent sense of duty to the party she champions that she repeated on March 5 to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow the bullet points of her own memo: "What I said to the transition team and what I stand behind is I believe that, given all the things that are happening, it would be a good idea for Mr. Steele to consider stepping aside and letting the—and letting the RNC elect a new chairman."

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"... [T]he job of the RNC is to raise money and get our candidates elected," she said. "We also have to sit down and talk about what our strategies are. We have been diverted by nipping and sniping from a lot of different sides, and we have not gotten to our primary mission. And if we don‘t get to our primary mission, we won‘t be effective in helping our candidates get elected both in 2010 and 2012.

"My concern is, we need to focus on our mission and our principles. We need to talk about the fact that this economy is failing and we need to promote what is the Republican response. We need to talk about the fact that we have healthcare coming from the White House, and Republicans need to say this is what our response is. Those are the challenges that we face.

"We need to talk to each other, not about each other," Fisher said, right there offering as clear and undiluted a medicine as any the professional Republicans could ask for. If the GOP has any hope of fully restoring itself to the national and political conversation of these turbulent times, they would do well to take Dr. Fisher's prescription. Full strength.

The Republicans could do something else entirely. With the party resembling the circular firing squad that used to be the operational style of the Democrats; with a chairman reeling from his own self-inflicted wounds; with open talk of electing a new leader, maybe, who better to deliver the medicine than the doctor herself?
Image credit: Staff of Asclepius: Granger Collection, New York City.

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