Mitt Romney addressed the NAACP convention in Houston today. Romney’s speech was mostly well-received, sparking applause here and there along with one sustained boo (and a couple of odd organ riffs) when he promised to repeal ObamaCare. Refusing to pander, Romney not only did not back down from calling it “ObamaCare,” he also noted that according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey, about 75% of business leaders see the president’s signature law as an impediment to job growth. Romney had bracketed his discussion of ObamaCare with talk about unemployment and how he as president would encourage economic growth. With black unemployment close to double overall unemployment, his message was delivered to an audience that was bound to listen to part, if not all.
Romney also promised to allow school choice and to promote policies that would strengthen the family. He earned one of his stronger applause responses when he vowed to defend traditional marriage.
Most striking about Romney’s speech was its similarity to his stump speech. He inserted a fine quote from Frederick Douglass — “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men” — but overall he delivered the same policy speech today that he delivers wherever he campaigns. There is a message in that: that President Obama’s constant pandering and divisive acts are the wrong approach, and that an American president must be a president for all, not just for some.
Romney drew real distinctions between himself and President Obama, on policy and not the personal: “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.”
Romney also drew a line between the hope of equal rights and the broken promise of poor urban schools: “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.” President Obama, by opposing school choice, stands in the way of allowing students in those awful schools to choose better schools.
For Mitt Romney to address the NAACP convention and refuse to pander was courageous. He had to know that his promise to repeal ObamaCare, which plays well in the suburbs and with friendly Republican audiences, would not play well with the NAACP. But he delivered it anyway. He took the negative response, and offered a classy counter. He offered, in fact, a positive vision and encouraged his audience to weigh their choice: “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.”
Mitt Romney’s speech played surprisingly well with today’s audience, and may have helped him shed his unfortunate image as a panderer. It certainly raises an interesting question. Given Mitt Romney’s courage to address an audience he could expect to be hostile to his message, when will President Barack Obama show similar courage and clearly explain and defend his policies before, say, a school choice coalition convention or the Conference of Catholic Bishops?