Date: July 12 2012
When Mitt Romney addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People this morning the air was thick, not just with tepid applause and occasional enthusiastic booing, but also with bitter history.
The Republican Party once led a war against the South to end slavery, but it lost faith with the black community during its trenchant opposition to the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s.
And until 1978 formal Mormon teaching held that black people were cursed by God.
Romney is the world's most famous Mormon Republican.
Nonetheless, the presumptive presidential candidate got off to a good start, joking that the Obama campaign might think the NAACP was playing favourites by scheduling him to speak before the Vice-President, Joe Biden.
It allowed him to break the ice while underscoring that President Obama himself had declined to attend the group's annual conference in Houston.
“With 90 per cent of African-Americans voting for Democrats, some of you may wonder why a Republican would bother to campaign in the African-American community, and to address the NAACP,” Romney said by way of explaining what he was doing so far outside his comfort zone.
“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,” he said with a familiar pause, tilt of the head and benevolent smile.
"If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you're looking at him.”
But anyone expecting what has become known as a Sister Souljah moment in American politics – that moment when a politician breaks away from the radical views of his or her own political base – would have been disappointed.
Romney did discuss his own father's support of the civil rights movement, but did not mention the efforts of Republicans across the country to introduce state laws that will make it harder for minority groups to vote.
He enjoyed a sympathetic response when he expounded upon the centrality of family to civic society, and on his intention to “defend traditional marriage”.
He also won vocal support for his endorsement of Republican initiatives to link education funding to individual students rather than to schools.
But other elements of his speech seemed pitched to his own audience beyond the walls of the auditorium.
“Our high level of debt slows GDP growth and that means fewer jobs. If our goal is jobs, we must, must stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we earn. To do this, I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like Obamacare,” he said to boos and catcalls.
The tilt and smile remained fixed as 10, and then 15, seconds ticked away.
“I will restore economic freedom. This nation's economy runs on freedom, on opportunity, on entrepreneurs, on dreamers who innovate and build businesses.
“These entrepreneurs are being crushed by high taxation, burdensome regulation, hostile regulators, excessive healthcare costs and destructive labor policies.
“I will work to make America the best place in the world for innovators and entrepreneurs and businesses small and large.”
The popular response to the address was mixed, though most people noted that it was smart and even gracious of him to attend.
Many commentators argued that being booed by the NAACP could even be a bonus for him among some Republican voters.
“This gives him all sorts of instant credibility on the Right and in the middle,” wrote conservative talk show host and blogger Ed Morrissey on the Hot Air website.
“The middle will be pleased to see that Romney went to the convention at all, in the face of overt hostility, plus the NAACP audience comes across as a bit immature.
“The Right has doubted Romney's commitment to repealing ObamaCare at times, but this shows that Romney is willing to repeat that pledge anywhere, even when it's guaranteed to turn the audience against him.”
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