The Republican candidate panders to the NAACP, then insults black voters.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has long been accused of lacking “core” values. This assessment of Romney’s dubious character has come from those on both the left and the right of the political spectrum.
Obama political adviser David Axelrod told CBS News in March: “There is a sense there is no core to him.”
Republican Jon Huntsman concurred: “When you combine a record of uncertainty — running first [for] senator as a liberal, governor as a moderate, then as a conservative for the presidency — people wonder where your core is.”
And after a relatively well-received speech on Wednesday to the NAACP, Romney proved what we already knew: The mirror has two faces. The former Massachusetts governor started by pandering only slightly, complimenting the organ music and appearing to identify with the soulful sounds. His demeanor appeared humble as he thanked the leaders and audience for their reception. The speech included quotes and references to the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass and former NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks.
Romney made a bold proclamation: “If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you’re looking at him.” Comments like that were met with booing and were seen by many in the audience as a slight to President Obama, who retains high approval ratings among black voters. Yet Romney stood his ground and vowed to repeal “Obamacare,” which he called “nonessential” and “expensive.”
He sought to redeem himself by invoking memories of his late father, George, who as governor of Michigan spoke out against the ills of segregation in the 1960s. And despite being a member of the Mormon Church, which taught notoriously racist ideology and maintained barriers to the priesthood for all black people of the Diaspora, George Romney went on to become head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and pushed for housing reforms to assist African Americans.
In fact, Romney’s comments are most egregious for their lack of intellectual dexterity. He stole this playbook from the failed primary-campaign attempts of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who brazenly appealed to racially biased, disgruntled white voters in the South and Midwest.
Former House Speaker Gingrich boldly declared in January that if he were invited to the NAACP convention, he would discuss “why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” Santorum followed suit, speaking to a crowd ahead of the Iowa caucuses by saying that he didn’t want to make “black people’s lives better by giving them other people’s money.” (For his part, Santorum denies that he said “black people,” insisting, instead, that he’d said “blah people.”) In what Twilight Zone are such racially offensive comments allowed to be spoken by the nation’s political classes?
As it turns out, the booing of the crowd serves Romney’s interests because it sends a message to the Republican base that he was bold enough to condescend to the president in front of a black audience. Those who initially gave Romney credit for showing up to speak missed the point of his insidious strategy.
So what didn’t Romney say? He spoke of education and the need for reform, but his plan to provide vouchers would effectively defund public schools and leave millions of black children trapped in poor schools with fewer resources. Paul Ryan’s budget, which Romney supports, slashes funding for teachers and inner-city programs. Romney discussed high unemployment rates among African Americans but failed to mention 700,000 public-sector jobs (where the black community has traditionally been employed and achieved middle-class stability) that have been eliminated as a result of the Tea Party’s insistence on austerity cuts.
Read more from Edward Wyckoff Williams on The Root