Michael Steele: Meet Amanda Duzak

Tuesday night at Howard University, RNC chair Michael Steele did an
impression of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz: he was absolutely
heartless. Not everyday do we see the head of a major political party
insult a 23 year old whose mother just died of cancer.

But first let's set the scene:

Steele spoke at Howard in front of roughly 150 students as part of
his outreach program to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
His effort to connect with young black students got off to a rather
cringe-worthy start when right before the billed "student dialogue" two
dozen white members of area young Republican groups arrived to sit in
the reserved first two rows of the packed room. One wondered, as
students grumbled, if Steele hired John Ashcroft to be his event

But the discomfort turned to boredom as Steele's "dialogue" turned
quickly into a monologue. The RNC chair went on a long rambling speech
about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, while the texting
audience strained to stay awake. There was no impassioned argument or
defense of the Republican Party and any questions in the "dialogue" had
to be submitted in writing while Steele spoke. The only thing that
caused even a raised eyebrow was Steele's occasional effort at slang.
When a student told Steele she was going into business law he said,
"Business law! Mo money!"

But when challenged, Steele exposed himself, and it was awful to see
the Tin Man's tin ear. When the RNC chair took a written question on
health care, he blasted the public option, saying that "every time the
government gets involved in something it doesn't work."

Then came Amanda Duzak, and Steele's evening just got a whole lot worse.

Duzak, a 23 year old Towson University grad, stood up, against the rules and out of turn.

"My mother died of cancer 6 months ago because she could only afford
three of her six prescription chemotherapy medications," she projected.
"There are 50 million people in this country who could end up like my
mom, suffering or dying because they do not have adequate health care.
Everyone in this room and everyone in this country should have access
to good health care."

The room woke up and other than those glaring from the front, the
applause was wall to wall. But it's Steele's response that makes this
moment both newsworthy and a terrible comment on his character. After
saying that he believed in a mature, honest discussion and not in
shouting, Steele said, "People are coming to these town meetings and
they're like [he then shakes]." He then looked and gestured right at
Ms. Duzak and said, "It makes for great TV. You'll probably make it
tonight, enjoy it." He then turned his back to her, as the crowd

Think about what Steele did. He didn't only turn his back and rudely
dismiss a young woman whose mother just died of cancer. He used the
shameful recent behavior of the right wing town hall screamers -- his
own party's base -- to try and turn the crowd against Ms. Duzak.

Damian Smith, a after school counselor and Prince George's County
resident, also weighed in about how his aunt is losing her home because
of her medical bills. Other people started to shout out as well.

But Steele was worse than non-responsive. He was dismissive and
profoundly disrespectful. As Smith said to me afterward, "I couldn't
believe he acted that way toward her... toward all of us. He was just

The roots of Steele's unconscionable behavior lie in his own
political bankruptcy. The nation faces a health care crisis and has no
answer other than telling students, "Everyone in the country needs
health care." Lately he has been running commercials telling seniors,
"No cuts for Medicare," just two short years after running for senator
of Maryland saying that "everything has to be on the table" - including
Medicare cuts. As Ron Brownstein wrote in National Journal on
Friday, "Steele's pledge this week to 'protect Medicare' might have
been more convincing had it not come five months after nearly
four-fifths of House Republicans voted to literally end the program as
we know it for all Americans younger than 55."

It's one thing to be a fraud. That's politics as usual. But to turn
your back on a young person whose mother just died of cancer is more
than politics as usual. It's shocking. As Ms. Duzak said to me after
the event, very upset, "I wasn't trying to shout or be rude. I just
wanted an answer. I thought we were all owed that." We certainly are.
But if nothing else, Michael Steele owes Amanda Duzak a sincere

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