09/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is Michael Steele's Position on Health Care Reform "Nuanced" or "Clear"? Answer: The New GOP Is the Old GOP.

I wrote an article in December of last year about the interview Steve Inskeep of NPR's All Things Considered conducted with Mike Duncan, the then chairman of GOP. In that article I observed the GOP was heralding Bobby Jindal and Ahn Cao as the saviors of the party because it was merely trying to repackage itself rather than to change fundamentally. When a caller called from Oregon to suggest the GOP needs to distance itself from the religious right, Duncan gave a typical talking point: "we are the party of the big tent." But everyone knew, including Mike Duncan through his silence, this was not just ignorance, but also a deep denial.

And on August 27th, a little over 9 months after the election and 7 months into the Obama administration, Inskeep conducted an interview with the new GOP chairman, Michael Steele, on the topic of health care reform. (Read the entire interview here or you can listen to the entire interview here.) The interview was precipitated by Steele's op-ed in the Washington Post on August 24th, in which he declared the "GOP Principles for Health Care" for seniors.

Steve Inskeep calls Steele out on his contradictory call for no cuts in Medicare while at the same time asserting that Medicare, like other government-run programs, needs to "run better and efficiently." How can this be consistent? How is it possible to call to protect Medicare while at the same time calling to oppose President Obama's plan for a government-run health care system? Steele answers as follows: "Well, people may like Medicare, and liking a program and having it run efficiently is sometimes two different things. . . So let's focus on fixing it." In a nutshell: Medicare is politically popular, so keep it and fix it. But government-run health care is bad like other government-run programs ("We have Amtrak. You have the Post Office"), so don't start it.

I am left scratching my head.

When pushed to defend private insurers against the government-run Medicare, Steele asserts: "And sure, there are issues in the insurance market that we can regulate a little bit better and that we can control better to maximize the benefits to the consumers." Inskeep is quick to catch Steele's inconsistency and responds, " Wait a minute, wait, wait. You would trust the government to look into that?"

Steele gets defensive and accuses Inskeep of "doing a wonderful little dance" and "trying to be cute." He insists that "the reality of this is very simple. I'm not saying the government doesn't have a role to play." What is then the role of the government?" Steele goes on, "The government does have a role to play. The government has a very limited role to play." Inskeep admits readily that he is "a little confused" by the positions Steele tates "because you're giving me a very nice nuanced position here."

Now it's Inskeep who is left scratching his head.

Steele answers with a declarative statement: "I'm being very clear." When Inskeep pushes him further Steele mounts a counter-offensive by asking Inskeep in return, "What's nuanced? What don't you understand?" And here comes the clincher: "I don't accept your premise" So far, Steele has accused Inskeep of doing a dance, being cute, and now of offering a view of Steele's contradictory, or "nuanced," position which he flatly doesn't "accept." What Steele implies here is this: he is "being very clear" and it is Inskeep who doesn't understand.

As I stated at the beginning , my December article on Mike Duncan dealt with Duncan's inability to accept the fact that the GOP needed a fundamental change. When suggested that it needed to disassociate itself from the religious right, Duncan responded with a mere declarative talking point: "we are the party of big tent." When Steele is asked if his positions perhaps needed to be explained, he responds with is another similar declarative statement: "I am being very clear." And by the way, "You are doing a wonderful little dance."

Never mind that the positions Steele takes are blatantly inconsistent. For example, the second principle: "we need to prohibit government from getting between seniors and their doctors." The seniors are already on Medicare, the reviled government-run health care, so it would follow from Steele's position then that the government is already standing between doctors and patients. However, Steele wants to assert at the same time that Medicare is not, but other government-run health care will. Protect Medicare, but other government-run health care is evil.

It seems to me that the GOP has not changed at all. The new Mike Duncan is the old Mike Duncan. The face and the color might have changed, but it is still the same. When pushed to clarify its position, Michael Steele as the face of the GOP answers, "you are doing a wonderful little dance." When asked to clarify the position, Steele gives the simple declarative answer as if it were self-evident, "I am being very clear." Steele may accuse Inskeep of dancing, but it is Steele who is doing the dance.

So is then Michael Steele's position on health care reform "nuanced" or "clear"? It is neither. It is circular. It is vacuous. It is nothing but talking points behind which there is no substance.

The new GOP is the old GOP all over again.