Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will address the NAACP convention in Houston today. This will be a somewhat more challenging encounter than the speeches President Obama likes to give in front of college audiences and union groups.
The Romney campaign released some excerpts of the candidate???s prepared remarks in advance of the speech, which will focus heavily upon the economy. Romney will introduce himself to black voters by explaining, ???I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African American families, you would vote for me for president. I want you to know that if I did not believe that my policies and my leadership would help families of color – and families of any color – more than the policies and leadership of President Obama, I would not be running for president.???
The emotional plea for NAACP members to peer into the recesses of Romney???s heart is a bit problematic ??? ???if only you knew how completely racially sensitive I truly am!??? ??? but that is the vernacular of modern politics. He also places this statement at the beginning of his remarks, and works hard to meet the challenge of explaining his beliefs to the audience ??? it works much better as his opening statement, rather than his closing argument.
It???s encouraging to hear Romney emphasize that good policies benefit ???families of any color,??? and he is unsparing in his critique that President Obama???s presumed sympathy hasn???t done a lot of good for anyone, from any racial background: ???I am running for president because 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. My campaign is about helping the people who need help. The course the President has set has not done that ??? and will not do that. My course will??? When President Obama called to congratulate me on becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, he said that he, quote, ???looked forward to an important and healthy debate about America???s future.??? To date, I???m afraid that his campaign has taken a different course than that.???
Romney places strong practical emphasis on this point later in the speech: ???If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone. Instead, it???s worse for African Americans in almost every way. The unemployment rate, the duration of unemployment, average income, and median family wealth are all worse for the black community. In June, while the overall unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.2 percent, the unemployment rate for African Americans actually went up, from 13.6 percent to 14.4 percent.???
He also notes that leftist policies block equality of opportunity in more areas than employment. ???If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, black families could send their sons and daughters to public schools that truly offer the hope of a better life. Instead, for generations, the African-American community has been waiting and waiting for that promise to be kept. Today, black children are 17 percent of students nationwide ??? but they are 42 percent of the students in our worst-performing schools.???
???When it comes to education reform,??? Romney asserts, ???candidates cannot have it both ways ??? talking up education reform, while indulging the same groups that are blocking reform. You can be the voice of disadvantaged public-school students, or you can be the protector of special interests like the teachers unions, but you can???t be both. I have made my choice: As president, I will be a champion of real education reform in America, and I won???t let any special interest get in the way.???
As it happens, Romney follows a speech from Attorney General Eric Holder, in which he describes common-sense voter ID laws as ???political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right.??? Presumably black voters aren???t supposed to be worried about getting ???disenfranchised??? by fraudulent votes ??? the form of disenfranchisement Eric Holder never, ever wants to discuss.
But Holder went further. Outrageously, he said of voter ID laws: ???We call those poll taxes.???
Poll taxes were a fee leveled against freed slaves in the old South, to keep them from voting. They are illegal under the 24th amendment to the Constitution. Shouldn???t the Attorney General of the United States be required to know that? How often must Eric Holder loudly declare that he is completely unqualified for the position he holds?
Holder has relentlessly launched legal challenges to every voter ID law in the land, but to my knowledge he has never asserted in court that they were poll taxes. Whatever political latitude we might choose to extend to the Attorney General, it seems certain that his job should not involve lying about the law to frighten American citizens into cooperation with his political agenda.
We occasionally hear criticism of ???the politics of fear.??? The contrast between Romney and Holder illustrates the politics of fear perfectly. The NAACP got to hear ridiculous scare tactics from an embattled Attorney General who felt free to address them as if they were imbeciles, easily frightened into obedience with the most absurd and extreme rhetoric. Then they???ll hear Mitt Romney address them with the respect due to mature adults, and talk about the unbreakable connection between opportunity and freedom. It is very sad to think that anyone in America would believe the color of their skin obliges them to entertain the former argument, at the expense of the latter.
Update: Courtesy of PBS, here’s a video of Mitt Romney’s entire 24-minute address to the NAACP convention. He got booed a few times, but they gave him a standing ovation at the end.