Thursday, March 12, 2009

Will Steele Outlast Westwood

The Jean Westwood Line

In the realm of political celebrity, chair of the out party usually ranks somewhere below the Secretary of Agriculture who parties with Cookie Monster. Sure, Howard Dean raised the bar, but he had a presidential campaign and an unforgettable, parody perfect moment behind him.

Yet Michael Steele has been chair of the Republican Party all of 42 days, and he's already the punchline of Saturday Night Live humor. All Dean had was one YEEEEAH! but already Steele's given us hip hop Republicans, the buzzer controlled by Limbaugh, Michelle Bachmann saying "you be da man"... oh, the laughs. How many late night comedy fans can even name Tim Kaine?

Who? I'm guessing most of you who read the Deeth Blog know, but for the Linux geeks who wandered over on a non-Monday, that's the DNC chair.

Steele's runner-up in January, Katon "White Country Club" Dawson, is showing the kind of unite-the-party loyalty to the winner not seen since the Johnson County Democratic Chair race of 2007. The buzz is Dawson's calling for a do-over vote of no confidence sometime in early April.

But Steele's real competition isn't Katon Dawson. It's Jean Westwood.

Like Steele, the first black RNC chair, Westwood broke a barrier: she was the first woman to head the Democratic National Committee when she was elected on July 14, 1972. And like Steele, her term got off to a rocky start: the first ever and still only post-convention dumping of a vice presidential candidate.

It was all downhill from there for George McGovern's campaign, even though he had the honor of being chronicled in the greatest book ever written, Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail `72 by Hunter Thompson. (True story: one of the first times I met McGovern, the guy in front of me had a book he wanted autographed. Not one of McGovern's books--Hunter Thompson's. George laughed and said "I must have signed hundreds of these over the years.")

McGovern, of course, was elected president of Massachusetts, DC, and Johnson County Iowa. Hunter Thompson takes the story from there:
We had to catch a plane back to Washington, where the Democratic National Committee was scheduled to meet the next day -- Saturday, December 9 -- for the long-awaited purge of the McGovernites. In the wake of McGovern's defeat, the party was careening to the right. John Connally's Texas protege, Robert Stauss, already had more than enough votes to defeat McGovern's appointee, Jean Westwood, and replace her as Democratic National Chairman. Which is exactly what happened the next day. George's short-lived fantasy of taking over the party and remolding it in his own image had withered and died in the five short months since Miami. Now the old boys were back in charge.

As they would remain until 2008.

149 days. That's how long Jean Westwood was head of the DNC. 149 days.

Baseball fans have a term called the Mendoza Line: an impenetrable wall of fortresses protecting France from Nazi Germany. Oops, that's the Maginot Line. The Mendoza line, named for weak-hitting shortstop Mario Mendoza of the 1979 Kansas City Royals, is a measure of mediocrity separating the merely poor from the pathetic, usually defined as a batting average below .200 (more precisely, .198).

149 days is the Westwood Line. That's the mark Michael Steele has to beat to avoid going down as the fastest failure as a party chair in modern history. That means that to pass the Westwood Line Steele has to last until June 27.

(JC Dems: the answer is August 1.)

He may not have that long. The big test in March 31--Day 61. That's the date of the special election in New York's 20th district, Republican-leaning turf that Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand won in 2006, held in 2008, and left for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. If the GOP loses the first big test on Steele's watch, he may be gone in under ten weeks, establishing the Steele Line at less than 70 days and rivaling the Pope John Paul I Line and the William Henry Harrison Line.

Dozens of Republican National Committee Chairs spontaneously combust each year; it's just not really widely reported.

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