Steele’s ‘Freedom Tour’ Stops at Howard

Wednesday, September 02, 2009 at 11:52 am


Michael Steele might have lost them when he talked about hip-hop. Early into his Sept. 1 event at Howard University, a well-promoted affair that filled a small ballroom, the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee went on a tangent about his seven-month-old musings on how the GOP could appeal to voters in “urban/suburban hip-hop settings.” The audience, mostly students of the historically black college, listened raptly.

“A lot of folks,” said Steele, “have given me a hard time when I talk about hip-hop Republicans.” That got some laughs, and Steele smiled. “Yeah,” he said.

Image by: Matt Mahurin

Image by: Matt Mahurin

“I’ll tell you what was interesting about the response I got from the media,” Steele said. “I think a lot of people, they went to a stereotype. Black and white. And it’s interesting, the responses, because what I was saying–I wasn’t talking about Republicans all of a sudden walking around with, you know, all the bling-bling.” Steele pantomimed an imaginary chain on his neck, and danced a small step.

Steele’s event, an uneasy mix of town hall meeting and self-empowerment seminar, had a small media presence and a turnout of around 200 students. The first event like this, a late June town hall in Detroit, was a small success. This leg of Steele’s “Freedom Tour,” an occasional speech series first announced at the NAACP’s 100th anniversary celebration, came after a month of boisterous protests that, Republicans believe, have bolstered them in the health care debate. It came after a week of Steele campaigning for a “seniors’ bill of rights” on health care. This night, though, he wanted to talk about hip-hop.

“It wasn’t glorifying, you know, the violence, and the language, and all of the other aspects of some of this music,” Steele said. “It was about the ability to create wealth. It was about the ability to create legacy wealth. You have amongst you right now a generation of African-American entrepreneurs who are creating incredible wealth, and they’re investing it, some of it, in the community. They’re controlling that wealth. How are they doing it? Well, instead of the publisher or the record company owning the rights to their music, they own the record company.”

Not for the the last time, a few members of the crowd furrowed their brows, looking confused.

Michael Steele speaks at Howard University on Sept. 1, 2009. (David Weigel)

Michael Steele speaks at Howard University on Sept. 1, 2009. (David Weigel)

Not only had Steele not previously said this, it didn’t make a lot of sense. It was a strange segue from another, stronger point — that Republicans like Steele wanted black Americans to prosper and start their own businesses. “Our country can afford more than one Oprah Winfrey,” said Steele. But the hip-hop kept coming back in. Steele had talked about uplift with young men, alongside “friend Russell Simmons,” the CEO of Def Jam records. “Rev. Run was there.”

There were some hiccups in the staging. The first two rows of chairs in a room that filled up quickly were reserved for VIPs and for local young Republican activists. The chairs sat empty past the 6:30 p.m. start time. Then, all at once, a large group of young, white Republicans walked in. The complexion of the room changed immediately as some of the students who’d been waiting sighed and whispered to one another.

Three students, from Howard, George Washington and American Universities, sat onstage waiting for Steele. When he arrived, after a glowing introduction by the RNC’s Angela Sailor (“shoes are not easy to walk in if you intend to be a trailblazer”), he conducted short interviews with them.

“I hope to go to law school and study business law,” said the George Washington student.

“Mo’ money!” said Steele.

“Yes, sir!” she said. The laughter didn’t go much further.

After that, the special guests sat on the stage as Steele waded into the audience. “I’ve got my own microphone,” he said, brushing aside a stage microphone that had been emitting ugly waves of feedback. He went off into examples, like the hip-hop example, and asked the students to look at his life for some kind of guidance. “I grew up two miles up the road, on Georgia Avenue, in Petworth,” said Steele. “How did I get to be here?”


Michael Steele speaks at Howard University on Sept. 1, 2009. (David Weigel)

As the evening stayed close to the script, Steele was game and self-deprecating. One student proclaimed her desire to become a United States senator from Maryland. “So you’d be a Democratic senator,” said Steele, mock-ruefully, making light of his failed 2006 bid for that office. But not much was happening with the questions audience members had written on scraps of paper. A graduate student named Silvan Champagne sat patiently with a question about for-profit health care, perking up when Steele took a similar question about a Medicare-style “public option.”

It was then that the event went off script. Steele led into his answer with a rudimentary explanation of the issues. Amanda Duzak, a Towson University graduate who’d moved to Washington recently and come to this town hall with the possibility of protest in mind (she’d brought a sign that was taken at the door), stood up and interrupted him.

“My mother died of cancer six months ago because she could only afford three of her six prescription chemotherapy medications,” said Duzak. “Everyone in this room and everyone in this country should have access to good health care.”

The audience crackled back to life, applauding Duzak (who was white), as Steele laughed and looked for his footing. He found it by taking the stance he’d accused Democrats of taking: knocking Duzak for bringing her dissent into a public meeting.

“You can shout, and I can ignore you,” said Steele. “Or you can engage and pay attention and learn from it. Because you present something they may not know, they may not appreciate, they may not have ever heard it before. So when people go out to town halls, they go out to the community, and they’re like this?” Steele raised his fists, imitating the angry Duzak. “It makes for great TV. You’ll probably make it tonight. Enjoy it.”

The crowd swooned, applauding Steele, who went back after Duzak: “You have not furthered the debate.” She marched out toward the main entrance, but was stopped by a police officer and ushered back, down a stairwell. Steele took one more question and left abruptly, off to an interview with the student press. Ashley Reese, a sophomore journalism major at Howard, came over the row Duzak had been sitting in to talk to one of the activists who’d come with her.

“I just wanted to say … I don’t like the shouting and all of that,” said Reese. “But I agree with what you said. He should have taken more questions.”

You can follow TWI on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow David Weigel on Twitter



Michael Steele Visits Howard, Gets Heckled, Heckles Back - City Desk - Washington City Paper
Pingback posted September 2, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

[...] ago because she couldn’t afford all of her chemotherapy medications. But Steele showed her. He heckled her back, as the Washington Independent [...]

Comment posted September 2, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

Steele to Duzak's mom: Drop dead.

Comment posted September 2, 2009 @ 4:51 pm

No worries, the Repubs are only dragging the corpse of their failed ideas around with them now. As soon as the American people smell the stench (no amount of air freshener can kill that), that will be that. Their disingenuousness will be exposed. Of course, to the thoroughly indoctrinated, they will carry the banner (for what, no reasonable person can figure out) even if they make themselves out as fools. Look at Steele!

links for 2009-09-02 « Overton’s Arrow
Pingback posted September 2, 2009 @ 8:35 pm

[...] The Washington Independent » Steele’s ‘Freedom Tour’ Stops at Howard Ugh. This is awful. Steele is an embarrassment. (tags: Steele GOP Howard DC university townhall absurd) [...]

Comment posted September 2, 2009 @ 11:48 pm

what a retard, I thought it was the republican “base” that was doing all the shouting at the town hall meetings.

Miles Ahead
Comment posted September 3, 2009 @ 3:18 am

Plain and simple, Michael Steele is a certifiable idiot. Hard to believe he has a law degree. An educated fool.

Paul Bencivenga
Comment posted September 3, 2009 @ 4:42 am

I was there… He is actually a fairly good public speaker. I thought that, even if you weren't a fan, you would appreciate his objectiveness, especially when he talked about the African-American community as a whole. I thought that more questions should have been answered, but he handled Miss Duzak's outburst calmly and there is something to be said for that. I wasn't a huge fan going into the event, but he kinda won me over, not to his party, but to like him as a person. Any Republican (Black or White) who has the balls to come speak at Howard University proves his own character, and therefore deserves respect.

Comment posted September 3, 2009 @ 9:43 am

wow, what a jerk

C Belton
Comment posted September 3, 2009 @ 12:45 pm

I'm glad Howard University invited him. That way the students can here both sides.

Comment posted September 3, 2009 @ 2:55 pm

nike af1 shoes
nike dunk sb shoes
Polo Clothes

Comment posted September 3, 2009 @ 4:44 pm


He's not good, but an excellent speaker, that is why he is vilified right now. To go to a meeting such as this and demean anyone is uncalled for, especially in light of what the Repubs have done to Democratic Town Halls, it's all a bit hypocritical to me. Ms. Duzak had legitimate concerns-not trumped up fear mongering as has been seen by the “astroturfers”.

To not just dismiss her plight out-of-hand, but insult her as well, is inexcusable for an elected official. Of ANY party.

Comment posted September 3, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

So Duzak's mom dies because she can't afford cancer treatment, the young woman is justifiably angry, and Steele mocks her instead of treating her with respect and offering a viable alternative to the Dems' reform plan. Anyone would be enraged. Smart move, Steele.

Comment posted September 3, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

Duzak's comment tells you the truth about Steele and his group of supporting the Insurance and Phrma industry. He is a phony as large as one can be, and this guy wanted to be a member of Congress. Where do they find these people. Read on please, and answer her questions and not run off and make fun of her!

So Duzak's mom dies because she can't afford cancer treatment, the young woman is justifiably angry, and Steele mocks her instead of treating her with respect and offering a viable alternative to the Dems' reform plan. Anyone would be enraged. Smart move, Steele.

Tweets that mention The Washington Independent » Steele’s ‘Freedom Tour’ Stops at Howard --
Pingback posted September 3, 2009 @ 11:50 pm

[...] this page was mentioned by Mike Beaumont (@m_beaumont), Rick Newman (@ricknewmandc), John VanDeventer (@dcwumpus), Ruthanne Reid (@ruthannereid), Jay Lake (@jay_lake) and others. [...]

Comment posted September 3, 2009 @ 11:13 pm


Comment posted September 4, 2009 @ 1:15 am

From the looks of that photo, the black people weren't allowed to sit in the front of this bus. I'm surprised that Howard U. would allow that even though I'm not surprised republicans do.

Comment posted September 4, 2009 @ 4:41 pm

Steele is not an elected official. In fact, he has never won an actual election where actual voters had to choose between him and another candidate. His only elected office was as Lt. Governor of Maryland, where he was elected on a ticket, not as an individual.

Comment posted September 5, 2009 @ 1:11 am

She explained her plight: watching her helpless mother withered as she grappled with death. All this bonehead offered was that's somehow you should listen to me even though I don't have much to contribute to the solution. If that wasn't enough, let me insult you for your attention seeking intent. Obviously people like Steele don't care much about neither the people nor the solutions.

Howard Students Protest! | Gadget Look
Pingback posted September 5, 2009 @ 3:29 am

[...] lot of folks,” said Steele, “Read more at Tags: Bernard, Howard, howard university protest, LeGarrette, Steele, Students, University, [...]

Comment posted September 7, 2009 @ 5:27 am

It's almost as if their is no debate, this issue was decided back in 1972,,
Here's Ted Kennedy way back then;
Ted Kennedy: “If you think we have a (health) system that is working well today, ask the person next to you. Ask a mother who tries to call a doctor after dark. Ask a man who lost is health insurance because he lost his job. Ask a senior citizen whose Medicare has run out. Ask anyone who ever paid a bill or tried to file a Health Insurance claim. Our people will never get fair value for their enormous investment in Health Care, unless we break the strangle hold of the Health Providers and Health Insurance companies. We have a mammoth Health Care crisis because we have a mammoth health care system that works well, but only for the few. It works well for the doctors. It works well for the hospitals. It works well for the insurance industry. It works well for everyone but the sick. And it is the people who pay the price for this enormous profiteering. They have been sold a bill of goods for a system that is marred throughout by high cost and inefficiency, by inconvenience and incompetence. And by implicit or outright fraud. I do not believe that the Congress will be a party to the passage of any Health Insurance bill that maintains such vital flaws. We stand on the threshold of real reform. And 1972 can be the year when we cross that threshold and fulfill at last the promise that health is a basic right for all our citizens, not just an expensive privilege of the few”.

We all know the outcome way back then,, and now we wonder why the right don't need to hear anything,, it's all been tried before! The “TRIGGER” is their knew excuse to pass it on to the next generation,,,,,,,,TYVM… It sure would be nice to see in my lifetime.…

Paul Bencivenga
Comment posted September 7, 2009 @ 5:34 am

Nice try. Steele was in the middle of answering another gentleman's question, but she went ahead yelled at the top of her lungs out of turn with no intent on rational debate spurring a string of rude follow ups from the crowd. And btw, Steele's first words in response to her OUTBURST were, “I agree.” Please don't take my word for it though. I would encourage you to watch the video in it's entirety on rather than come to a conclusion based on a smattering of Op Ed articles or a 3 second sound byte. The fact is, Miss Duzak came to protest the speaker (she even showed up with a sign which was taken away at the door).…

Take it friends…
Arm yourselves with knowledge

Comment posted September 7, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

this man is crazy..ignore him uncle tom…

Paul Bencivenga
Comment posted September 7, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

And everyone is free to do so…

Comment posted September 8, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

The man talks out of his as…sure everyone is free to do so and I am free to write about his lies also. Freedom of speech and press you know!

Paul Bencivenga
Comment posted September 8, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

Except, of course, for the Fairness Doctrine…

Comment posted September 16, 2009 @ 1:13 pm


Comment posted September 16, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

Umm check the video and the many other articles written on the story. I didn't bring a camcorder with me. Also caps and vulgarity unneccesary.

Comment posted September 17, 2009 @ 6:41 pm


Comment posted September 17, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

Learn grammar and some manners… Maybe someday you will get a job and make enough money to buy a keyboard that doesn't have a broken caps lock key.

Comment posted September 21, 2009 @ 7:16 pm


Comment posted August 9, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

everyone is free to do so…

louis vuitton totally
Comment posted August 18, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

> I then took a shower in the clean water provided by a
> municipal water utility.

Louis Vuitton handbags
Comment posted December 10, 2010 @ 6:47 am

The Epi Leather, shiny palladium hardware, rolled leather handles with ring attachments, and Louis Vuitton Canvas engraved padlock on the side of the bag make this handbag truly standout. Instantly, I fell in love with the balenciaga bags Speedy in black! It was gorgeous, sophisticated and I thought it would lovely in my collection. I absolutely loved the Speedy Cube, but due to the ultra high price I turned to the Epi collection for a more affordable take on a black louis vuitton belts handbag. At the moment, I have four different louis vuitton clutches in my collection going on a 5th in two weeks and I thought it was quite senseless to even think to getting lousi vuitton Speedy 30. So I change to search for a black Jimmy Choo clutches I came across the Louis Vuitton Leather Lockit and it was love at first sight! I have been eager to own a Louis Vuitton store Outlet in black for some time now. If the Catier bags doesnt interest you in black, it also is available in Cassis, Ivoire, and Red. My personal favorite is the black, and I just may add the Louis Vuitton discounts Epi Leather Lockit to my current wish collection. By the way, if you think the price is high, you can visit our online store to choose some Louis Vuitton multicolor for you. I change to search for MiuMiu tote I came across the Louis Vuitton Speedy handbag. Epi Leather Lockit and it was love at first sight! The Louis Vuitton Epi MiuMiu online have always been a favorite to me, and when I saw that the lockit came in Epi Leather also I was took. For some odd reason,cheap lv handbags sale, I have never taken notice of this particular lockit handbag before and I must say it is stunning.The features of this handbag are absolutely beautiful. Written by Louis Vuitton Trunk On Sale.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.