GOP chairman: Student political engagement is "critical"
Predicting an “unprecedented shift” in the political landscape this November, Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, visited Elon University on Sept. 29 to share reflections on the fall midterm elections while encouraging students to engage with politics through activism and voting.
Steele, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the first African-American to lead the committee, spoke for more than an hour to a crowded Whitley Auditorium. His comments touched on political trends, the Tea Party, and the importance of young people staying involved with their government.
“You are going to witness an unprecedented shift politically in November. None of us knows what it means yet,” he said. “Pay attention and realize how you fit into this puzzle. … Your challenge, and your opportunity, is not to be lazy and take for granted and make assumptions about what happens next. Your level of engagement is critical.”
Steele cited the taxes students pay when they work, and the agencies that oversee many student loan programs, as two examples of ways that government impacts their lives. He also mentioned the national debt.
“You’re going to get the bill. Right now you owe the federal government $55,000. Did you know that? Because that’s what the breakout of the $13 trillion debt is, for each man, woman and child in the country,” Steele told students. “Right now, I’m not worried about paying that back so much, but at 18, 19, 20, you should be, because that number will only grow.”
With Republican poised to make big gains in both houses of Congress this fall, Steele used part of his time on stage to laud the Tea Party, and to chastise Republicans who may have lost their primary race to a more conservative candidate but who have failed to endorse the winner.
Though not citing specific races, some of his comments came in the context of a question about the recent Republican primary race in Delaware. Longtime Rep. Mike Castle lost his bid for the U.S. Senate nomination to Christine O’Donnell, who was backed by influential conservative voices including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Castle has refused to endorse O’Donnell.
“I’m disappointed, is how I feel about it,” Steele said of the failure of candidates in various races to endorse their opponent. “The general rule is, OK, now I rally around and support you. That has not been the case in a number of races that we’ve seen. I’m very disappointed as national chairman that we haven’t moved beyond that.
“My words have been very clear about this. Stop the stupid noise, the crazy backbiting, and the finger pointing, and the name calling, and the blaming, the excuse-making, and realize that this is what’s ticked people off more than anything else.”
Steele, a self-described “Lincoln Republican,” served as Maryland’s lieutenant governor from 2003-2007.
“If I was not the RNC chairman, I would be out there with my pitchfork and my torch as a member of the Tea Party movement,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say they’ve changed the political dynamic and certainly the political conversation in this country.”
An expert on political strategy and election reform, he most recently served as chairman of GOPAC, and also held posts on the National Federal Election Reform Commission and the NAACP Blue Ribbon Commission on Election Reform.
Steele's ability as a communicator and political analyst have been showcased through his roles as a contributor on the Fox News Channel and regular host of the Salem Radio Network's nationally syndicated Morning in America Show. He has also appeared on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher and Comedy Central's The Colbert Report.
A corporate finance attorney, Steele founded his own company, The Steele Group, a business and legal consulting firm. His writings on law, business and politics have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Politico.com, Townhall.com, and The Journal of International Security Affairs, among others.
Born in 1958 at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, Maryland, Steele was raised in Washington, D.C. He spent three years as a seminarian in the Order of St. Augustine in preparation for the priesthood, but, ultimately, chose a career in law instead. He earned his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1991.
His son is currently an Elon sophomore.