Lending his voice to party's vision

Speech: The lieutenant governor, a rising star in prime time, says his is the party of prosperity for all.

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele

Election 2004 -- The Republican Convention

September 01, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - The Republican Party offers Americans of all backgrounds a shot at prosperity by fostering economic growth and competition, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele declared last night in a prime-time convention speech that ridiculed John Kerry as unfit to lead the nation.

Granted the most prominent speaking role of any African-American at the convention, Steele invoked Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as he built a case that the Republicans' vision of helping the poor without "destroying" the rich is more favorable to blacks - as well as whites - than the Democrats' vision is.

"What truly defines the civil rights challenge today isn't whether you can get a seat at the lunch counter," Steele said. "It's whether you can own that lunch counter in order to create legacy wealth for your children."

President Bush, Steele argued, embodies that vision. While Democrats talk vaguely of hope, Bush has turned vision into action through policies such as tax cuts and the No Child Left Behind education bill, he said.

Working with a White House speechwriter on the 10-minute address, Steele had promised a traditionally conservative speech. He did not disappoint. "If we expect to succeed, if we expect our children to succeed, we must look to ourselves and not to government to raise our kids, start our business or provide care to our aging parent," he said. "What government can do is give us the tools we need and then get out of the way and let us put our hopes into action."

Steele also attacked Kerry, mockingly invoking the Massachusetts senator's name seven times as he criticized his voting record on gay marriage, product liability reform and the Iraq war.

"[Kerry] also recently said that he doesn't want to use the word `war' to describe our efforts to fight terrorism," Steele said. "Well, I don't want to use the words `commander in chief' to describe John Kerry."

Steele told the audience about his mother, Maebell Turner, a former minimum-wage laundry worker who, he said, "never took public assistance, because, as she put it, she didn't want the government raising her kids."

"A lifelong Democrat, she once asked me how I could become such a strong Republican," he continued. "I simply replied, `Mom, you raised me well.'"

Born at Andrews Air Force Base, Steele, 45, was raised in Washington and attended parochial schools. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University law school.

The national GOP has been heavily promoting Steele, one of a few statewide-elected black Republicans around the country, during the convention. A buzz has followed Steele in his travels; The New York Times referred to him as "worth watching" in yesterday's editions.

As Republicans continue efforts to attract minorities, Steele has been called the party's answer to Barack Obama, the Senate candidate from Illinois whose keynote address at the Democratic National Convention elevated his national profile. Steele reinforced the comparison last night. "I had planned to give a moving defense of the conservative principles of the Republican Party tonight," he said. "But there was only one problem; Barack Obama gave it last month at the Democratic Convention."

With the lieutenant governor's stock on the rise, the Republican Party had moved his speaking slot closer to the end of last night's program, in a bid for better TV exposure. But a decision to have the president, via satellite, introduce his wife's speech, altered those plans.

So Steele ended up finishing his remarks before 10 p.m., when the major broadcast networks began their one-hour coverage for the night. His full speech was heard nationally only on CNN and C-SPAN but was warmly received by the Madison Square Garden crowd.

Despite the display of diversity by the RNC last night, Steele addressed a Madison Square Garden audience that was largely white. Minorities make up 17 percent of the roughly 4,800 delegates and alternates this year, up from 10 percent in 2000.

In a state with a 28 percent African-American population, the Maryland delegation is 13 percent black.

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