In front of a room of DuPage County conservatives, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called Friday for a return to core party values and grassroots politics after GOP losses in the last two national elections.

In front of a room of DuPage County conservatives, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called Friday for a return to core party values and grassroots politics after GOP losses in the last two national elections.

At a $150-a-plate fundraiser marking Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, Steele urged the more than 600 attendees to speak to as many American voters as possible and share the “conservative values that your mommy and daddy taught you.”

“We got our clocks cleaned (in the 2006 and 2008 races), and we deserved it because we walked away from the fundamental principles that have defined us for over 150 years,” said Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor who three weeks ago was elected RNC chairman.

His speech shied away from any policy specifics or strategies for winning seats in the next election. Instead, he called on the DuPage County Republicans to take it upon themselves to rebuild their party.

His message, to move beyond the missteps of the past, at one point echoed the theme of self-reliant recovery from President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech.

“This is our moment to come back and say a word not just of hope, but a word of taking hope and turning it into action,” Steele said.  “We have always stood for the individual picking themselves up. … Dust off the clouds of ’06 and ’08 away from your head, take your heads out of the sand, pick yourself up, look America in the eye and say: ‘I am a proud Republican, the party of Lincoln, and I’m here to help your family build a life, a legacy.’”

Steele lambasted decisions made by the Democratic majority in Congress, starting with a joke: A Republican and Democrat are walking down the street when they see a man down on his luck. The Republican offers him $20 and a job. The Democrat gives him the number for the nearest welfare office.

“Then he reaches into the Republican’s pocket, takes out $50 and gives it to him,” Steele said to the audience’s laughter. “What you witness there is what the Democrats call economic stimulus, but it’s what you and I call wealth redistribution.

“We see it now in real time with (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid spending a trillion dollars of your hard-earned money in a boondoggle they call the stimulus.”

Steele’s visit to Illinois did not go without  mentioning the troubles of its junior senator, Democrat Roland Burris, who is facing calls to resign after it was revealed last week that he was invited to make campaign donations to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich before his appointment. Steele said that kind of corruption, as well as the budget problems in statehouses across the country, should be a catalyst for Republicans.

“This has not happened on your watch,” he said. “As leaders of this party — legislative, political — you have the opportunity to go to the people of Illinois wherever you find them — Starbucks, Target, an empty parking lot you’ve never been on before — and let them know that this has happened on (Democrats’) watch.

“Let them know you are a member of the party of Lincoln," Steele went on to say. “This is our moment and our opportunity. Don’t screw it up. Make it work.”

Suburban Life Publications