Last Tuesday, Bwogger Alex Jones hopped over to the law school to hear Michael Steele speak at an event hosted by the Columbia Political Union.

As the former chairman of the GOP, Michael Steele has a past defined by partisanship. But the message he conveyed on Tuesday was one of post-partisan idealism.

The speech was odd in that it had no stated goal.  CPU didn’t bill the event as “Michael Steele on the 2010 Election,” or “Michael Steele, Redefining Conservativism.” It was just… a talk, perhaps more suitable as a commencement address than as a talk to 125 interested poli sci majors.

Steele’s remarks can be reduced to three basic arguments:

  • Embrace interesting times: “Times that aren’t structured, times that are a little more chaotic,” [a CPU banner falls down from the chalkboard behind him] “like that!” Our times are interesting times, according to Steele. The world is changing and not many people know exactly how. It is unclear if he meant simply that we shouldn’t be afraid of turbulent change, or that we should strive to create our own noise and confusion. Perhaps his argument is that only through times of uncertainty, real change is achieved.
  • Reject political labels: Steele made it clear that he abhors political labels: liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat.  That’s a strange position considering that it was explicitly his job to development a consistent and convincing Republican brand over the last two years.
  • Find and adhere to principles: Steele described the development of his principles: “My daddy was an alcoholic, he beat my mama. That’s my story. They shaped my philosophy, they shaped my politics.”  Steele’s principles are undoubtably conservative, but shaped by his experience in the poor inner-city of Washington, D.C.

There is nothing surprising about what Michael Steele said.  He has spent his life mostly working in public service, and he wants to pass along values to those likely to play an important role in the future (us! minus Art History majors.)  Not only was he well-intentioned, but Steele proved to be a friendly and funny guy.  He chided his “lazy-ass” son, and at one point described public debt in terms of, “scrilla.”

When answering the audience’s questions Steele reacted as one would expect from a career politician. His reaction to the last question posed was the clearest example of such dodges. A student asked about the contradiction between the Republican position on economic and social issues, but Steele would admit to no such contradiction between economic liberty and social regulation.  The questioner stated it again, slowly and clearly, and Steele declined to bite.  Nothing you can do about that, I guess.

Overall, for a conservative, Steele’s event can be seen as a success mostly because he got to finish speaking.