It does sort of look like a clerical collar

Oreo Trans Fat Suit12may03I’m sorry to return so quickly to the pages of the Wall Street Journal, but I do live in Maryland only a few miles up the highway from Annapolis. Thus, the new James Taranto profile of the controversial GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate caught my eye.

That candidate, of course, is Michael Steele, the state’s 6-foot-4 African American lieutenant governor who, during the 2002 campaign, the Baltimore Sun editorial board slapped with this dismissive phrase — he “brings little to the team but the color of his skin.”

You may remember that Steele is the public official who had Oreo cookies (you know, black on the outside, white on the inside) tossed at him during a public appearance. And then there was that flap about the liberal wing of the blogosphere and the infamous headline “I’s Simple Sambo and I’s running for the Big House.”

Taranto’s profile makes it clear that Steele is a rather complex man, with economic and social views that are not hardcore GOP. But he is a moral conservative. He grew up as a Democrat and his emotional tie to the party of Ronald Reagan formed, Steele explained, because he heard the Gipper affirming the basic moral values of his mother.

But you know there had to be more to the situation than that. Sure enough, this appears to be yet another “pew gap” story.

Taranto does not spotlight this angle, but it is hard to miss this reference in a story about a political life that bridges the Roe era.

(Steele) earned a degree from Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, spent a few years studying at a Catholic seminary, and eventually settled in Prince George’s County, Md., where he became the local GOP chairman and later state chairman. If Mr. Steele is a Reaganite, he is not a doctrinaire right-winger. On several issues he takes what seem to be liberal positions, though he explains them in terms that a conservative can appreciate. He opposes capital punishment, he says, “because I’m pro-life.”

In other words, Steele is Catholic and is serious enough about his faith that, as a young man, he actively sought the priesthood. That would make him a poor fit in the Libertarian wing of the Republic Party. But it would make him a heretic in the modern Democratic Party. Ask the once pro-life Jesse Jackson, who in 1977 wrote in National Right to Life News:

“It takes three to make a baby: a man, a woman and the Holy Spirit. What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of a person and what kind of a society will we have 20 years hence if life can be taken so casually?”

So there is the religion ghost in the Steele story up here in Maryland. I will watch the local newspapers to see if this element of the story gets any ink. A quick search at the Baltimore Sun site turned up very little, in terms of recent coverage on this angle of one of the biggest stories in state politics.

Surely I missed something. I’ll keep looking.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Daniel

    Interesting observation

    His opposition to capital punishment would make him practically a praiah in social conservative and Republican circles, but quite at home with progressive Democrats.

  • tmatt

    … progressive Democrats.

    Who, of course, would nail him for his opposition to abortion on demand.

    This is the essence of the pew gap. To oppose abortion, one must turn to half of the GOP.

  • Daniel

    “abortion on demand”

    LOL. Does anyone besides consevative fundraisers use this term???

  • tmatt

    If the health clause is read in terms of mental health and feelings, what you end up with is abortion on demand at all stages in a pregnancy. That is the crunch point in the law right now. That is probably where the court will divide in the upcoming partial-birth case. That is where the Democrats divide when it comes time to discuss any changes in abortion laws (as opposed to changes in the language they use to discuss abortion). Is there a circumstance under which an abortion can be legally denied? What is the question.

  • Avram

    You may remember that Steele is the public official who had Oreo cookies [...] tossed at him during a public appearance.

    Allegedly. There’s some dispute over whether that ever really happened.

  • Michael

    “Abortion on demand” suggests the ability to walk into any doctor, get an appointment, and obtain an abortion that day, especially during the first trimester. That concept doesn’t’ exist.

    Few doctors perform them, most states have implemented waiting periods, informed consent lectures, and various other restrictions that prevent women from obtaining an abortion “on demand” or even as anticiipated in Roe v. Wade. The concent of “abortion on demand” is a political, shrill term that is fine in a pro-life opinion piece as propoganda, but has no place in an objective news story unless the term is challenged.

    Terry used the term for commentary, but hopefully would never let one of his students use it in an actual news story.

  • tmatt


    You have a definition I have never heard before. I have heard the term used to describe a legal environment in which a woman, backed by her doctor, can receive an abortion at any time in a pregnancy for any reason linked to mental and emotional conditions, as opposed to a threat to her life or physical health.


    I am aware of the dispute. I am also not aware that any of the major newspapers has printed a retraction. The Baltimore Sun, of course, is as trusted by Republicans as the Washington Times is by liberal Democrats.

  • Michael

    And yours is a definition I’ve never heard before, Terry. “On demand” would seem to imply ease, not getting a court date and begging a judge after consulting with your physician. Probably proof that the term is loaded and has different meanings depending on who is saying it. Definitily not a phraise that belongs in a headline or a news story unless it is quoted.

  • David

    I have to agree with Terry on the popular understanding of “on demand.” Common usage should dictate meaning.

  • Daniel

    But wasn’t Michael’s point that there isn’t “common usage? Common usage by pro-life activists isn’t common usage, regardless of how much I agree with them. Same with “partial-birth” abortion and death taxes.

    “Abortion on demand” is based on the original concept in Roe v. Wade, which hasn’t been the law for probably 15-20 years. The only thing remaining from Roe is the basic constitutional right. Everything else has been obliterated.

  • Avram

    Fine, Terry, let’s ignore the Balitimore Sun on the Oreo issue, and just use other sources:

    The first allegation of cookie-throwing came more than three weeks after the debate, on 20 Oct 2002, when Robert Ehrlich Jr told an audience at a Jewish day school that “Townsend supporters at the debate threw Oreo cookies” at Steele; this was reported by the AP the next day. That’s the earliest source for the cookie-throwing story.

    A few weeks later, the AP reported that Ehrlich was now saying that he didn’t personally see any cookies being thrown.

    S.A. Miller, a Washington Times reporter, also claimed that Steele was “pelted” with cookies, but when he spoke to WTOP (a DC radio station) about it, said that he didn’t actually see Steele get hit by any cookies. Fran Coombs, managing editor at the W Times, told WTOP that Miller hadn’t attended the debate.

    And there were TV cameras there. Funny that none of them caught the cookie-tossing on video.

    It’s possible that this is just the usual case of people’s memories varying. But I sure wouldn’t talk about the cookie-throwing as something that definitely happened.

  • dan

    “Does anyone besides consevative fundraisers use this term???”

    Yes, I have heard it expressed by some on the pro-choice side of the debate. The most recent example was during the ‘Walk for Life’ this past January in San Francisco.

    I will acknowledge the the individuals professing such at this particular event would probably be considered extreme by most on the pro-choice side.

  • David

    Perhaps (in Michael’s circles). However, he did say “suggests.” I’m certain that if I walked around a few cubicles in my office right now and asked my co-workers (both liberals AND conservatives) “What does ‘abortion on demand’ mean?”, that few, if any, of them would say that it means “same day” or “right now” abortion.