Steele Turned To Prominent GOP Strategist For Health Care Speech

08/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

The progressive research organization, the Media Matters Action Network, has accused Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele of mimicking the directives of a prominent Republican strategist in his speech denouncing President Obama's health care reform on Monday.

That strategist, Alex Castellanos, had issued a memo in early July urging his fellow Republicans to castigate the Democratic proposal for health care legislation as an "experiment" that was "too much, too soon, and too fast." He urged GOPers to ask "when Washington has made anything cost less," and declared forebodingly that if the country were to "screw up" it would last generations. "This should scare the living daylights out of all of us," Castellanos' memo read.

Sure enough, Steele, on Monday hit all those points, and many others. The RNC chairman used the word "experiment" thirty times in his speech. He asked: "When has Washington ever made anything cost less?" He declared that what the White House was attempting to do, "should scare the living daylights out of all of us."

Both Castellanos and Steele urged Obama to slow down. Both called for a "patient-centered" and "bottom-up" approach to reform. Both stressed concerns about cost.

So was Steele trotting out the poll-tested lines of a prominent Republican hired gun rather than offering his principled and personal concerns with Obama's health care reform?

During the speech at the National Press Club on Monday morning, Castellanos could be seen counseling Steele in a side room before the RNC chairman took to the stage. There appeared to be some level of coordination, as the parallel themes of the memo and speech suggest. But in an email to the Huffington Post, Castellanos stressed that this was Steele's effort, not his.

"Chairman Steele commissioned the research and has directed the effort upon which today's speech, my memo, the RNC TV campaign, the briefings to leading Republicans, etc. are all based," he said. "The common thread to the RNC effort is Michael Steele. I would not confuse one of the horses pulling the wagon (me) w/ the man driving the wagon (Chairman Steele)."

Not that Steele was trying to present his speech as the spearhead of a debate about the intricacies of health care policy. He gladly admitted that his was a political address, which is the role the party chairman.

"Look I don't do policy," Steele said. "I'm not a legislator. My point in coming here today was to begin to set a tone and a theme if you will, an approach to addressing this issue that center on real people who are struggling with this issue every single day."