Mitt Romney gave it his best shot – and got booed.
“If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him,” Romney said with a straight face as he addressed the NAACP's national convention Wednesday.
“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,” Romney said to a chorus of boos.
It was a decidedly bold statement, but not at all believable. I’m not convinced that Romney actually believes his own rhetoric, but he desperately wants to win the White House so he’ll say anything, to anybody, to get elected.
Minutes after Romney spoke to NAACP delegates, the largest black group Romney has ever addressed, his surrogates quickly appeared on national television praising Romney just for showing up.
I disagree. Romney shouldn't get kudos simply because he accepted the NAACP’s invitation to speak during the national convention, offered some predictable platitudes, and then rushed off to the next campaign stop.
This wasn’t a stretch: Romney had nothing to lose. He knows President Barack Obama received 95 percent of the black vote in 2008, and the president will probably get close to that level of black support in November so Romney felt he had a chance to siphon off some black votes by appealing directly to NAACP delegates.
For Romney, the Republican candidate for president, telling a crowd of black people that he’s a better representative for African Americans than Obama, the nation’s first black president, was not the best campaign pitch – and, in fact, Romney bluntly attacked the NAACP's core concerns.
“I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart,” Romney said, “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.”
Romney was long on clichés and short on substance. He offered some questionable "Kumbaya" moments, but it wasn’t true leadership and he didn’t sound serious about courting African-American voters.
“His criticism of the Affordable Care Act – legislation that will improve access to quality health care for millions – signals his fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of many African Americans,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said after Romney’s speech.
Here’s what Romney failed to say: He didn’t talk specifically about how he would reverse the 14.4 black unemployment rate; he didn’t talk about his plan to address the rising HIV/AIDS crisis in the black community; he didn’t talk in detail about the widening racial disparities in education; he avoided any views on about the criminal justice system, and he didn’t discuss how his vision for health care will actually help black Americans – except for saying he’d repeal “Obamacare,” the president’s signature health care law.
“If our goal is jobs, we must stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we earn,” Romney said. “To do this, I will eliminate non-essential programs like Obamacare.”
That’s when the real booing began – and for good reason. A CNN reporter said Romney had not experienced that kind of booing since Romney began campaigning for president, although there was some polite applause during portions of Romney’s speech.
Tara Wall, a senior adviser for Romney, told reporters after the speech that Romney "received more applause than boos."
"If you want to count the handful of boos there were, I think we saw much more acceptance and applause of his speech a number of times," Wall said. "There was much more agreement over all from what I saw and heard."
But there didn't seem to be much agreement among NAACP delegates over this disingenuous statement from Romney: “I have no hidden agenda.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Romney hides everything. He refuses to make all of his tax returns public; he won’t discuss in detail his offshore bank accounts; and his campaign is shielding many of his major donors. I really don't care if Romney wants to live his life in secrecy. Just don't run for president.
“At the NAACP today, leaders in the African-American community recognized the devastating impact Mitt Romney’s policies would have on working families,” Clo Ewing, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, said in a statement. “He’d gut investments in education, energy, and infrastructure, and raise taxes on the middle class even as he gives $5 trillion in tax cuts weighted towards millionaires and billionaires.”
Romney is one of those millionaires. He’s worth about $200 million; famously said he’s “not concerned about the very poor” and has no obvious connection to working-class Americans – white or black.
“The unemployment rate, the duration of unemployment, average income, median family wealth are all worse in the black community,” Romney said. “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.”
Romney is adept at stating the obvious: Black folks already know the facts. The persistent question that remains unanswered is this: What is Romney planning to do about it?