How Not to Talk to the NAACP

You don’t go the NAACP Convention and say “Obamacare.”

You just don’t.  

Because we all know that “Obamacare” is a fighting word straight from the lexicon of partisan ugly. 

If you want to describe the Affordable Healthcare Act as “Obamacare” in your own house, that’s your business.

But when you get invited to the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, you don’t say “Obamacare” because you don’t use fighting words when you’re a guest in somebody else’s house. It’s bad manners.

No one imagined Mitt Romney was going to win any votes in that NAACP convention hall in Houston. For so many reasons. For the fact that he is running against Barack Obama. For the fact that his own record on civil rights is modest, especially in comparison with that of his father, George Romney. And for the fact to many black voters Mitt Romney is a stand-in for a faith tradition that did not desegregate its priesthood until the late 1970s. No one imagined Mitt Romney could begin to fix that history of Mormon racism in a speech.

But given that Mormon racism was an inescapable backdrop for his speech, Romney might at least have found a way to show a little grace and reflection—qualities essential when dealing with the legacy of race in America, as every president must.

And early on, it sounded like he might. “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.”

But then he read the Houston NAACP crowd a warmed-over stump speech. 

In which he used the word “Obamacare.” 

Which we all know is a fighting word, even if you follow it with a quote from Frederick Douglass.

What happened to the part about “who I truly am in my heart”?

There was no real graciousness today, and there were no risks taken. Except showing up at the NAACP convention, which pretty much every GOP presidential candidate does, and should. After all, there are 37 million African Americans in this country, and the president should show up for them too.

But to Mitt Romney, it was more important to score a little footage of booing black voters to fire up his conservative donors than it was to risk just a little bit of self-disclosure, or reflection, or humility—just a little bit of honest outreach to a major African-American organization.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *