Lost in all the chatter about Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaking to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was that Romney demonstrated a desire to earn the black vote while President Obama could care less about it. It should be noted by black liberals that Obama didn’t think the oldest black advocacy organization was worthy of him changing his schedule to address the NAACP’s annual convention.
While introducing Romney, a member of the NAACP pointed out it’s customary for presidential candidates to address members of the organization. But the nation’s first black president didn’t have time to waste in his re-election campaign, asking or even pandering to black Americans for their vote, despite the fact over 95% voted for Obama in 2008.
In contrast, Romney began his NAACP speech by telling blacks every vote counts and he knows support must “be asked for and earned.” In heart felt, humble remarks that lasted a little more than 20 minutes, Romney made the case why black Americans should give him a shot in 2012. As prior skeptic on the speech, I was impressed.
This was one of the rare instances in this campaign where Romney gave us more than words; he revealed a personality and emotion, things that make a candidate real to voters. Romney not only acknowledged the challenges of the post Civil Rights Movement and the election of President Obama, something the Republican Party has failed to do, though ironically Republicans were responsible for passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“If someone had told us in the 1950s or 60s that a black citizen would serve as the forty-fourth president, we would have been proud and many would have been surprised,” said Romney. But the most poignant moment was when Romney admitted, “Many barriers remain” for blacks and “old inequities persist. In some ways, the challenges are even more complicated than before.”
Romney made a smart move in recognizing the ongoing economic and equality disparities plaguing blacks. He then told the crowd why they should vote for him. Without directly linking Obama’s name to the dire straights blacks find themselves in under his failed policies, Romney noted black unemployment rose in June from 13.6% to 14.4% and is almost twice the national average. While blacks represent 17% of public school students, Romney said 42% of blacks are trapped in failing schools.
Romney declared “we need a new plan” and it starts with the promoting the family. Citing a Brookings Institution study, Romney said the probability of being poor is 76% if you don’t finish high school, get a job and wait until 21 to get married. If you do all those things, your chance of becoming poor is just 2%. Romney said he would promote policies that uplift families and support traditional marriage, to which the NAACP crowd applauded. Remember Obama’s support of gay marriage angered many blacks and black pastors, who have threatened to vote against him in November.
With respect to school reform, Romney said as a champion of charter schools and school choice, he is aligned with black Americans on the issue while Obama and Democrats consistently oppose vouchers, charters and choice. While Governor of Massachusetts, Romney said he worked with black leaders to keep charter schools open after the Democrat legislature voted to close them and highlighted a program he created where the top 25% of high school graduates were offered full four year scholarships to Massachusetts colleges or universities.
Other than getting booed when he talked of repealing Obamacare, which was unnecessarily provocative and he shouldn’t have mentioned it, Romney hit a home run with the NAACP speech. He was at ease, genuine and aggressive in a way I’ve never seen him before. Romney didn’t do anything magical. He simply took the Republican message to black voters and curiously didn’t use the word Republican once. This will go a long way in earning Romney respect from black liberals.
“If you want a president, who will make things better in the black community, you are looking at him,” Romney roared. I think the NAACP crowd thought to themselves, “maybe you’re right, maybe you’re just right.”