Testing Steele's mettle

July 28, 2006

If you woke up Tuesday morning to the news that, during a lunch with reporters, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele had criticized President Bush's war in Iraq and congressional Republicans, you might have thought he was preparing to go on tour with the Dixie Chicks. The liberal-minded country music trio, you'll remember, faced boycotts and death threats after their lead singer spoke unkindly about the president during an appearance by the group in London.

Then, if you woke up Thursday and heard that Mr. Steele, interviewed on a conservative radio show the day after his chow-down with reporters, had described Mr. Bush as his "homeboy" and all but swore allegiance to the Republican Party, you might have thought he had switched sides and teamed up with Toby Keith, a country singer and songwriter known for his rigid patriotism.

Ever since he announced his bid for the U.S. Senate, Mr. Steele has insisted that he is an independent thinker, not in lock step with any party or person. His first set of comments about the war and the White House seemed to confirm that. This, we thought, is a man who is finally speaking his mind. It's also a smart political stance, because Mr. Steele is running in a state where Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans. But just as our admiration for him was rising, he slipped back to the other side. That was a mistake. He should have stayed with the Dixie Chicks. At least they haven't changed their tune.

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