MICHAEL STEELE’S IDEA OF A ‘JOKE’…. Remember RNC Chairman Michael Steele? As the midterm elections draw closer, he’s kept a fairly low profile, traveling by bus around the country to small events where key candidates avoid him.

He was, however, gracious enough to chat with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell last night, where the host asked a straightforward question: “What is the minimum wage?” (I think he was looking for a specific figure, not an explanation of the policy.)

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Steele obviously didn’t know — though he started to suggest otherwise — so he did his best to say the answer was irrelevant. “The reality of it is, that is not the most paramount issue that voters out there are facing,” the RNC chief argued.

Of course, it’s not hard to argue that wages are a critical issue, and that some Americans who have jobs are still just barely getting by. For those working hard and playing by the rules, but who are struggling badly anyway, I think the size of their paycheck probably ranks pretty high on the list of “paramount issues.”

And the significance of this issue becomes even more acute when we realize that several U.S. Senate candidates this year — all Republicans — have said publicly that they’d consider lowering the minimum wage, or perhaps even eliminating it altogether.

But in trying to obscure the fact that he doesn’t know the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, Steele said something else that stood out for me: “Close to 3 million jobs have been lost and this canard that, you know, we’ve ‘saved or created,’ you know, x number of jobs is a joke.”

Actually, Steele may think millions of Americans who have jobs right now thanks to government intervention is a “joke,” but I suspect those workers and their families would disagree. In reality, by the end of 2010, there will be 3.5 million Americans with jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist were it not for the Recovery Act. That’s not a “canard,” and it’s not a “joke,” it’s a fact. And had the stimulus been bigger — in other words, had we moved even further away from the Republican line — it would have been even more successful.

Steele probably ought to take all of this far more seriously. Given that the Republican National Committee will probably give him the boot early next year, the state of the minimum wage may take on a personal resonance for the beleaguered party chairman fairly soon.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. 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.