Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, the NAACP Speech and Racial Voting

–Richard E. Vatz

     There is no reasonable argument that Republican presidential nominee-to-be Mitt Romney should not have met with the NAACP.
     In 2008 Senator Barack Obama received an overwhelming percentage of the African-American vote – some claim it was well into the 90’s in percent — and one recent poll indicates that he leads Romney by 61-28 among black voters.  That’s something.  For both the president and Mr. Romney.
     But there is something off-putting about racial politics, just as there would be something off-putting regarding overwhelming Jewish support of Joe Lieberman’s ticket with Al Gore leading it in 2000.
     Why should Catholics have voted for then-Senator Kennedy in 1960?
     There are some issues in which policy preferences reasonably correlate with religion and race.  For Jewish voters, if there is a major differential regarding support of Israel and if Catholics believe that their Church is being disrespected by a presidential candidate, it is reasonable to expect that their vote will follow accordingly.
     Romney’s address to the NAACP – not to be inferred as necessarily representative of black Americans – referenced his father’s (the late Michigan Gov. George Romney) support of civil rights when it required some political bravery to do so.
     Romney was booed during his address, and it is always difficult to assess whether that unacceptable, unprovoked rude behavior is committed by a few or many.  ABC News reported that there were “three consecutive boos–including a round of jeers that lasted 14 seconds in response to his vow to end Obamacare. But he did receive a standing ovation at the end, and a few people in the ballroom told ABC News that the GOP candidate did make some legitimate points.
     It should be noted, however, that reports indicate that there was no apology from the NAACP for such inappropriate treatment.
     Romney laid out why he thought that black Americans would benefit from his leadership – he pointed out that those Americans suffered disproportionately from unemployment and the bad economy.  He argued that “I am going to give the same message to the NAACP that I give across the country, which is that Obamacare is killing jobs.”  He argued that the Affordable Care Act hurts the economy generally and African-Americans specifically.  Disagree with him, fine, but this is a policy disagreement regarding what policies would benefit African-Americans; it was not inherently a racially divisive position.
     He was quite respectful, pointing out that if elected, he would like to return to address the NAACP and would see such a return as a “privilege.”
     But he was unyielding in his opposition to President Obama – as he should have been.  Gov. Romney is trying to take his job.
     Romney summed up his political motives per the audience as follows: “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 as president.”
     Many conservatives believe that black leaders promote policies that are anathema to African American economic independence and long-term self-interest.
     Mitt Romney believes his policies are in the interest of most Americans and most African-Americans.
     He can do no more than address all audiences with policies that he believes will raise all ships; he does not deserve to be booed for that, and he does deserve to receive the support of voters who on policy alone think his would be a superior presidency to President Obama’s.
Professor Vatz teaches Persuasion at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013)

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