Quite a lot has already been said about the abortion remarks from Michael Steele’s calamitously confused GQ interview, but I would just make a few basic points: the tendency in conservative rhetoric for the last 20-30 years to outdo liberals in their advocacy of “choice” is badly flawed enough as it is, but it becomes absurd in the hands of a politician who seems not to have thought about the substance of policy or any philosophical arguments related to the matters under discussion. Ross discusses the problem of substance-free rising leaders in the GOP here. Steele’s zig-zagging between a federalist position on abortion (it should be the states’ “choice”), a status quo position (it is an individual choice) and the party platform position (federalism, no! HLA, si!) is dizzying, but what I find interesting is that Steele is receiving the third degree on this from conservative bloggers over this. For the most part, bloggers on the left are just pointing and laughing. When Palin demonstrated similar cluelessness on this very issue, the impulse on the right then was to ignore or justify her ignorance and say, “Oh yeah, what about Biden’s answer?”

Steele does not have the benefit of a verbose, mistake-prone counterpart to distract us, but even if he did the reaction to Steele would have been nothing like the response to Palin. In other words, Steele’s blunders on substance are treated as badly damaging and activists insist that they require immediate correction, while Palin’s blunders were spun as imaginatively and desperately as any politician’s answers have ever been spun. This is a bigger problem than pushing unprepared leaders into the spotlight–it is a clear preference for one kind of style, namely the combative pseudo-populist act, over whatever style Steele has at the expense of any consideration of the merits of what these leaders say. The takeaway is that Steele is being ripped apart for making statements that are not terribly different from Palin’s campaign statements on the very same issues, and somehow she is still considered a rising star by the very activists who are ripping Steele.