Romney was wise to accept the invitation -- though, God knows, the temptation to decline must have been tremendous. The NAACP hasn't exactly covered itself in glory over the past few years. In 2000, the organization ran dishonest and disgraceful television and radio ads suggesting that George W. Bush had been somehow indifferent to the horrible lynching of James Byrd in Texas. More recently, the group -- theoretically dedicated to the best interests of black Americans -- has joined teachers unions in attempting to block charter schools and has condemned the tea party movement as racist.
Still, by attending the conference and describing the invitation as an "honor," Romney demonstrated an important trait in a leader: a readiness to be respectful to everyone -- particularly those with whom you disagree. Romney was graciousness itself when he told the group:
"I can't promise that you and I will agree on every issue. But I do promise that your hospitality to me today will be returned. We will know one another, and work to common purposes. I will seek your counsel. And if I am elected president, and you invite me to next year's convention, I would count it as a privilege, and my answer will be yes."
It also demonstrates a strength of character to address a less than supportive audience -- at least in the way Romney did it. He didn't pull his punches or pander. He was forthright, honest and persuasive.
Naturally, the mainstream press focused on the boos he received after promising to repeal Obamacare (though they hardly mentioned the standing ovation at the end). Leading liberals like Nancy Pelosi and Rachel Maddow even accused Romney of getting booed intentionally. "I think it was a calculated move on his part to get booed at the NAACP convention," the House minority leader told Bloomberg TV. Maddow suggested on MSNBC that "he wanted to wear that around his neck like a badge of courage."
It goes without saying that if any conservative group had booed a liberal speaker, Maddow, Pelosi and the gang would be purple with rage about the "intolerance" and "lack of civility" on the right.
But never mind the liberal claque. Romney's speech was a model of what political discourse should be. Rather than minimize his devotion to free enterprise, Romney embraced it with a fresh and effective image: