RNC falls in a hole, keeps digging

RNC FALLS IN A HOLE, KEEPS DIGGING…. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, hoping to inject some ugly attacks into the political bloodstream quickly, issued a statement this morning attacking Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Like most of the things Steele says, he neglected to think the attacks through.

In particular, the embarrassing RNC chairman bashed Kagan for a record that includes “support for statements suggesting that the Constitution ‘as originally drafted and conceived, was ‘defective.'”

The problem, of course, was the context. Kagan supported the statement because it was used by her hero and mentor, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was talking about a “defective” Constitution in reference to the document treating a slave as three-fifths of a person.

In effect, Steele’s RNC statement was indirectly pro-slavery. Marshall was calling out a disgusting flaw in the Constitution; Kagan was endorsing Marshall’s analysis; and Steele was bashing the sentiment. Not smart. It was almost certainly unintentional — I find it hard to believe the RNC actually supports slavery — but Steele either didn’t realize what he was saying, hoped we wouldn’t notice, or both.

As this started gaining attention today, the vaunted RNC communications shop decided to keep digging.

As much as Liberals want to make the concern Chairman Steele raised about Marshall and slavery, it isn’t (and if it was, I’d note the Chairman admires Justice Marshall breaking barriers both as a lawyer and a justice, and helped rename BWI airport after him). It’s about how Elena Kagan, who is being nominated for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, views the role of the courts in our society.

Yeah, sure it is. That’s why Steele’s original statement included this as a sub-head: “Does Kagan Still View Constitution ‘As Originally Drafted And Conceived’ As ‘Defective’?” Maybe the part about how this relates to Kagan’s views on the role of the courts in our society was hidden in the small print. Very small.

How ridiculous is this? National Review — that’s right; National Review — published an item today. “Mr. Steele (and RNC staff), just as a little experiment, you might try thinking before you speak,” it said.

Good advice. Luckily for Democrats, Steele will probably ignore the suggestion.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.