Mitt Romney Speaks to NAACP: Media and Romney Miss the Point
On Wednesday, presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke to the 103rd NAACP convention in Houston, Texas. He made his case before a skeptical African American audience that if they helped elect him into office, he would do more to improve the lives of black people in this country than Barack Obama has in the last four years -- or will in the next.
Romney talked about how he would create jobs by implementing a five point plan that would include increasing free trade, encouraging entrepreneurship, taking advantage of energy resources, and getting rid of "high taxation" and "destructive labor policies." He said he would be good for all Americans and especially black people who have a higher unemployment rate than the general population.
And while the majority of the headlines touted how Romney was booed, making it seem like a bad talent show night at the Apollo, I listened to the entire, nearly 24 minute speech, and Romney was only vigorously booed once, when he promised to repeal "Obamacare."
During the rest of the speech there were a couple of scattered boos and hearty shouts of derision, like when he said:
"If you want a president who will make things better in the African American community, you're looking at him."
And then when he said, referring to the his five point economic plan:
"And I know the president says he's gonna do those things, but he has not, he will not, he can not...and his last four years in the White House prove it definitively."
However he was also interrupted by applause at least 12 times. Granted some of that applause was anemic at best, making me wonder if they were the work of Republican plants trying to get something going, but for the most part, the crowd was polite and respectful.
There were those that called Romney "brave" for facing the potentially hostile crowd. Bill O'Reilly of Fox News did, as did the black Republican Mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, Mia Love. But honestly, that's like constantly patting a new Dad on the back for changing diapers; he should be changing diapers. Just like Romney should be speaking to the NAACP.
And all the press about a hostile, booing audience is a win/win the Romney campaign counted on:
1. It helps beef up the conservatives: How dare those black folks boo our candidate!?
2. It impresses moderate whites: Wow, Romney's not the right wing nut-job we feared! He's talking to the black folks.
However for Romney to really be taken seriously by black people, he had to do two things yesterday. Two things he did not do.
The first was he didn't disavowed new voter ID laws sponsored by Republicans and passed in states like Texas and Pennsylvania, that Attorney General Eric Holder equated Tuesday night with post-Civil War poll taxes designed to keep blacks from voting.
The Republican party isn't stupid. They know that 95% of blacks voted for Obama in the last election and will probably vote for him in this election. So what's the best way to put a dent in that number? Come up with hurdles to voting that disproportionately keep poor, black people away from the polls in the name of fighting voter fraud.
Black people care about that.
The second opporunity Romney missed was by not confronting, head-on, the part of the financial decline of the middle class that is due to companies like Bain Capital-- Romney's own former private equity firm-- and the greed-driven policies of an unfettered Wall Street.
"I know that my policies and vision will help hundreds of millions of middle class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty, and will help prevent people from becoming poor," said Romney.
But until he addresses the legitimate suspicions that he is only out to allow the rich to get richer by gambling with our retirement accounts, our savings accounts, and our mortgages, he won't be taken seriously by people who are hurting.
He came close when he said:
"You know, the Republican party's record, by the measures you rightly apply, is not perfect. Any party that claims a perfect record doesn't know history the way you know it. Yet always in both parties there have been men and women of integrity and decency and humility who've called injustice by its name."
What he didn't do was call the injustice of voter ID laws, and the unfair tax system that benefits only the rich, by their names.