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Michael Steele's Biggest Problem

No, it's not that he's constantly sticking his foot in his mouth. It's that he doesn't really give a hoot about one of the things he says he most cares about: improving education for black, inner-city children.

During Steele's now infamous interview with D.L. Hughley--during which he insulted Rush and didn't object to his host's comparison of the GOP convention to a gathering of Nazis--Steele said:

You don't get anywhere without an education. I can take you right now to Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore City, where the educational system that's supposedly training and teaching the future generation of black folks ain't doing that. It's not doing it at all. ... and Republicans aren't running the City of Baltimore. So the question then becomes, how do we as a community become self-empowered to make the system, whether it's run by Democrats or Republicans, work for us?

But, as this article in today's Baltimore Sun reports, the last time Steele set foot in Douglass High School, it was 2006--and he was only doing it then as a campaign stunt. Since Steele's visit to the troubled high school, things there have gotten better (albeit marginally). What's most damning, though, is that those improvements are in no way due to anything Steele has done, despite his promise back in 2006 that he'd help Douglass:

During his nearly three hours at Douglass in 2006, Steele grilled then-schools CEO Bonnie S. Copeland and then-Principal Isabelle Grant in front of the press about the dismal state of student achievement there. He endorsed an offer by Coppin State University to take over the management of the school.

Four months later, The Baltimore Sun quoted Douglass student Ebony Peacock as saying the school had not heard back from Steele: "We were really excited because he really made it seem like he was gonna help our school. We haven't heard anything since."

Since then, a board of the school's alumni took over governance of the school in partnership with the Talent Development program at the Johns Hopkins University. At O'Malley's urging, Verizon partnered with the school to fund a new computer lab.

On one level, you can't totally blame Steele for citing Douglass; politicians are always falling back on personal anecdotes they gathered on the campaign trail. (Obama does it with the decrepit Dillon, South Carolina, school he visited during his presidential campaign.) But if Steele was really so shocked by Douglass, he presumably would have taken the time to go back there at least once since his visit in 2006. Or, if the issue of inner-city education is so near and dear to him, he could have visited any number of other failing urban schools that could then serve as a personal anecdote when he's appearing on national talk shows. But he apparently hasn't. So he's left talking about a school he visited once, three years ago, and promptly forgot about (except to use as a political punching bag). Which tells you everything you need to know about how much Steele--and, by extension, many members of the the party that elected him its chairman--really cares about this issue.

--Jason Zengerle