● What He Said: Romney made several interesting points in his speech, each of which fit into the theme of his policies making the lives of blacks better. This is an interesting choice because it sidesteps all the race-baiting stuff for which Republicans normally fall. Observe.
First, Romney noted that Obama has been horrible to blacks. Specifically, black unemployment is 6.2% higher than white unemployment and the average income and median family income is lower for blacks than whites. He then promised that his goal as president would be the creation of jobs, but he intends to do so without trying to target things for specific racial groups:
"If I am president, job one for me will be creating jobs. I have no hidden agenda. If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him."This actually got booed, which tells you something about the audience, doesn’t it? Then he said something fascinating. He essentially told the audience that capitalism isn’t their enemy. Check this out:
"I’ve never heard anyone look around an impoverished neighborhood and say, 'You know, there’s too much free enterprise around here. Too many shops, too many jobs, too many people putting money in the bank.'"This is a brilliantly subtle point. What he’s doing is saying that no matter what other issues blacks may have vis-à-vis race in America, capitalism is not to blame. And subscribing to free enterprise, rather than the spoils system so popular in black circles, will make their lives better without them even having to give up the other issues which concern them. In other words, he’s trying to depoliticize capitalism and wealth.
Then he spoke about education, calling it the “civil rights issue of our era” and arguing that “mediocre schools” are setting black kids up to fail. To fix this, he pointed out that he supports school choice and won’t be beholden to the teachers unions, as Obama is. Here is how he sold this idea:
"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."Notice that again, he’s telling blacks that this is an issue which they should depoliticize and thus support his education policies, which have proven effective. He’s also tossing a wedge between blacks and the teacher’s unions.
Finally, he made a direct appeal for them to look past the ideology and take an honest look at him:
"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."That’s a pretty solid appeal across the board.
● Smart Move: Romney was never going to win over the NAACP because those people have blinded themselves to anything they don’t want and nothing Romney could have said or done would have won him their vote or endorsement. So was it smart to give this speech to a hostile crowd? Well, yes. Winning over the NAACP wasn’t Romney’s goal. Instead, Romney was speaking to several other groups:
1. White Moderates. By speaking to the NAACP, Romney shows himself to be inclusive and willing to hear from everyone, not just his most loyal constituents. That makes moderates comfortable.● He’s Racist: The moment Romney finished, the race baiters started whining. There was nothing in his speech they could attack so they turned him into an evil genius by claiming he designed his speech so he would be booed, with the intention of using that booing to win over racist whites. Clearly they don’t believe this, but they know that many of their followers are stupid enough and paranoid enough to think this is true. So it’s a decent strategy in that regard. In fact, the smears started yesterday when Romney was called "too white" to speak to the NAACP. But I think ultimately, this speech is the kind of speech which could shift the needle a couple percentage points over time. And if Romney’s message that blacks don’t need to fight us on all issues finds legs, then the race industry is in serious trouble.
2. White Conservatives. By refusing to pander, Romney continues to show that he has strong conservative instincts -- though this point will be lost at some blogs.
3. Hispanics. By being seen appealing to blacks, Romney demonstrates to Hispanics that he’s not a white candidate speaking to white audiences. Following his speeches to Hispanics, this will help soften Hispanic fear that Romney wants to make them second class citizens.
4. Average Blacks. Obama will need every black vote he can get. Last time Obama got 96% of the black vote, and he still polls at 92% now. By speaking to the NAACP and speaking honestly, while making it clear he wants to help blacks, Romney could peel off a few percentage of blacks, which could make a key difference in some states. In other words, he doesn’t need to win them all to be successful, every percentage point counts.
● Final Thoughts: Romney continues to impress, quite frankly. I have no doubt that if Newt or Santorum were the nominee, they would have told this group about all the laws they passed to give blacks spoils. Santorum would have promised some piece of civil rights legislation -- Newt would have promise seats on the new moon base. And in the process, both would have strengthened the liberal meme that everything related to blacks needs to be seen through the prism of race.
What Romney did here is give a speech which basically laid out how a color-blind agenda will help blacks too, and he suggested to them that it was all right to agree with us on issues like economics and education because they didn’t need to surrender their beliefs on other issues to do that. That’s incredibly smart.
(P.S. Obama sent Biden to the same conference. He said racist things, told a sex joke and insulted veterans.)