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What's Michael Steele Trying To Prove?

I've only interviewed Michael Steele once--four years ago, when he was singing the praises of Don King and his efforts on behalf of the Republican Party--but, as I remember it, he was a pretty boring interview: very careful--almost too careful--in his words, and very much a speaker of Washington politicese. Steele's most famous interview was probably the one he gave a group of political reporters in the summer of 2006, when he was running for the U.S. Senate, and he complained (anonymously, although his identity was later sussed out) that the "R" next to his name on the ballot was "the scarlet letter." It was a candid admission, but it was still the sort of literary reference pretty much any pol might make. In other words, for his entire political career, Michael Steele has spoken like a pretty typical politician.

All of which is why I'm kind of shocked by Steele's verbal tics (and blunders) since he was elected RNC chair. Whether it's his channeling Kool Moe Dee to taunt Obama ("How you like me now?") or his answering a question about punishing GOP defectors on the stimulus ("I'm open to everything, baby!"), Steele seems to be trying very, very hard to sound, uh, cool--only to wind up sounding like an idiot.

And now comes Steele's latest, which occurred last night during a discussion about Bobby Jindal with ABC Radio's Curtis Sliwa. A partial transcript (from Ben Smith):

SLIWA: Now, using a little bit of that street terminology, are you giving him any Slum love, Michael?

STEELE: (laughter)

SLIWA: Because he is — when guys look at him and young women look at him — they say oh, that's the slumdog millionaire, governor. So, give me some slum love.

STEELE: I love it. (inaudible) ... some slum love out to my buddy. Gov. Bobby Jindal is doing a friggin' awesome job in his state. He's really turned around on some core principles — like hey, government ought not be corrupt. The good stuff ... the easy stuff.

I think it's a good thing that the GOP now has its first black chairman. But it's a shame that Steele seems to think that, as the GOP's first black chairman, he needs to sound "street" and "hip-hop"--especially when he's not.

--Jason Zengerle