by Askia Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts received a chilly reception July 11 when he addressed the annual convention of the NAACP in Houston. Gov. Romney drew boos from the crowd when he vowed to repeal President Obama’s health care law and billed himself as the better candidate for the Black community.
“I know the president has said he will do those things. But he has not. He cannot. He will not,” Mr. Romney said as the crowd’s murmurs turned to groans. “If our goal is jobs, we have to stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we take in every year. And so—and so, to do that, I’m going to eliminate every non-essential expensive program I can find.
“That includes Obamacare. And I’m going to work to reform and save…” he continued. Some members of the audience booed loudly when he used the slang term meant as an insult to the president’s signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Romney stood and smiled while some in the audience booed him, then continued. “I submit to you this: if you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him.” There were more boos from the audience at this point. “You take a look,” he continued.
Since the address, many observers have wondered aloud if Mr. Romney may have intended to use the members of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization as props by intentionally provoking them, in order to gain credibility among conservative Republicans, many of whom view him with suspicion.
“He was speaking to an audience alright. Just not the audience that was in attendance,” Dr. Wilmer Leon, assistant professor of political science at Howard University, told Pacifica Radio-WPFW Washington’s “News Views” July 13. The intended audience was in the Americana heartland’s White population enclaves where Mr. Romney might be admired for speaking to an openly unsympathetic audience without modifying his conservative message.
Gov. Romney also received some polite applause and even a standing ovation during his remarks. All of the interruptions, including the boos, may have not been spontaneous, but manufactured by the Romney campaign, according to one NAACP official. Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP and vice president for advocacy for the group, told MSNBC that the cheers Mr. Romney boasted about to an audience in Montana hours after the speech, actually came from Romney supporters in the audience, not NAACP members.
“Quite frankly, the campaign actually gave me a list of African American VIPs that they brought into the NAACP meeting,” said Mr. Shelton. “They’re bringing people in that they know will support his agenda from other places, that aren’t active with the NAACP. These are people who are brought in to actually provide the cheering for him, so there will be some support along those lines.”
Mr. Romney later discussed his NAACP appearance at a fundraising event in Montana. “Your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this,” Mr. Romney said, according to published reports, “if they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy—more free stuff. But don’t forget, nothing is really free.”
Mr. Romney’s address was not likely intended to try to win votes among the NAACP members themselves, but among Whites who are critical of the group. He sidestepped the issues most important to many Black voters.
His remarks made no mention of voter ID laws—GOP legislative initiatives in several states which make it harder for Blacks to vote. He said nothing about racial profiling by law enforcement agencies all over the country. He said very little about any subjects other than the economy.
“The members of the NAACP weren’t individuals whose vote he courted,” Mary Curtis wrote for the “She the People” section of the Washington Post website. “They were props. No mention of the applause he received at the beginning, end and during pieces of his speech the crowd liked. You can bet it’s only ‘the boos’ you will see in fundraising pitches to the hard-core, evidence of stereotypes that didn’t need any reinforcement,” Ms. Curtis wrote.