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In the Republican Party, Who’s Playing Who?

Date: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 By: Tonyaa Weathersbee

Could it be that Michael Steele is playing the Republicans? Just this week, Politico reported that Steele is making his duties as GOP national chairman too cushy for the party’s major donors. Says he’s spending twice as much as his predecessors on private planes, private cars, flowers and meal expenses that jumped from $306,000 in 2005 to $599,000.

But if Steele, who last year became the party’s first black chairman, is using his position to milk Republican coffers, he isn’t alone.

Florida’s former GOP executive director, Delmar Johnson, padded his $100,000-plus salary with a $200,000-plus contract – and blew up the party’s credit card so much that he wound up with more than a million American Express points.

And before Steele and Johnson, there was George W. Bush, who piled an $850 billion price tag for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on top of a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.

Yet, in spite of that, Republicans have been shameless in hoisting the banner of fiscal responsibility to scare people into not supporting, or even critically considering, President Barack Obama’s ideas. They’ve discovered that if they appeal to people’s worse fears about Obama, that if they question his American-ness or his experience often enough, then those fears will blind people to their hypocrisy.

Unfortunately, when it comes to their base supporters, they’re right.

They’re right because the people who ought to be furious about Steele’s spending, the extravagances of the Florida GOP and the deficit hell that Bush left for Obama to extinguish, ought not just be wealthy donors. The people who ought to be seething should be the poor whites in Mississippi, in Alabama and in Appalachia; the people who keep voting Republican because they believe the party will not just protect them from terrorists, but from black people and Latino immigrants.

They are the people who keep getting played by the GOP. They miss the hypocrisy because they’re too blinded by prejudice and ideology.

Just last summer, for example, predominantly white crowds packed town hall meetings to scream smears and yell epithets about Obama – even though he was trying to get their input on how to reform health care.

Health care, mind you. Something that would help low-income whites more than the Iraq War, tax cuts for the wealthy and Steele’s private plane.

Their anger has given rise to the Tea Party movement – a movement that bills itself as being separate from Steele’s GOP. Yet organizers managed to charge people $549 to attend its Nashville convention and paid Sarah Palin $100,000 to be keynote speaker.

It’s a safe bet that right now, someone is looking for ways to turn the tea partiers into another exploitable group of aggrieved white people.

Yet no one should be surprised.

No one should be surprised that Republicans, after taking a walloping in the 2008 election, would go back to the playbook that has always worked for them. That playbook includes the old Southern strategy; one that whips up fears among low-income whites about a Barack Obama presidency and what he, and black people, and Latino people might do to them, rather than what they all can do together.

What is a surprise, however, is that it continues to work. And the fact that the GOP has been able to gain traction in the polls by portraying themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility, largely through opposing things like the stimulus bill and the jobs bill, says that people continue to vote against their best interests.

It says that low-income whites – the group in which Obama’s approval ratings have plunged precipitously – have no problem with using the government to give billions in no-bid contracts to rich companies, rather than trust Obama to find ways to provide health care to Americans who can’t afford it.

Americans like … them.

So I guess that Steele should keep flying on the private jets. He may lose the GOP some well-to-do voters, but in the end, that won’t matter.

They’ll still have the poor white ones.