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At the NAACP: Romney Played to His Base Not His Audience

By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III



( - Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, made a direct appeal to the African-American community for its vote in his address to the 103rd NAACP convention.

He touched on five areas, “…open up energy, expand trade, cut the growth of government, focus on better educating tomorrow’s workers today, and restore economic freedom…”  It was a well-written and well-delivered speech, but Romney stated the obvious, told the audience what they already knew, and did not offer any substantive or new policy initiatives. Unfortunately for those in attendance he was playing more to his base and not his audience.  As the late James Brown would have said, “he was talkin’ loud and sayin’ nothin’.”

Mitt Romney’s primary objective for speaking at the NAACP convention was to demonstrate to his base that he would not compromise his ultra-conservative positions while speaking to a politically liberal audience. If Romney were truly interested in courting the African-American vote he would have used the opportunity to present some new and cutting edge policy initiatives.

He could have offered a targeted urban jobs program or a targeted urban education initiative. All he did was to claim 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…. My campaign is about helping the people who need help…” What policies? None were offered.  There was no articulation of vision, just a restatement of the horrific realities that too many in the African American community face. He did not even give the audience the “Bill Clinton,” “I feel your pain.”

He told the audience, “Americans of every background are asking when this economy will finally recover – and you, in particular, are entitled to an answer.”  Yet, he failed to provide one.  He went on to say, “Any policy that lifts up and honors the family is going to be good for the country, and that must be our goal.”  Yet, he failed to offer any policy initiatives to lift and honor the family.  All he offered was his “support for strong families” and a defense of “traditional marriage.”  Too many it’s those Republican “family values” that continue to cause problems in American politics today.

His statement, I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like Obamacare…” was calculated.  Someone who was trying to be “Presidential” would have referred to the legislation by its proper name, the Affordable Care Act.  Instead, Romney chose to use the hyperpolitical invective that was created by partisan Republicans to misrepresent the legislation and turn public opinion against a beneficial initiative.  Again, this was a clear example of how he wanted to demonstrate to his base that he would not compromise his ultra-conservative positions while speaking to a politically liberal audience.

Romney talked about “…the expansion of the middle class” while challenging the power of unions.  Unions played a major role in creating a stable and level working environment that helped to create the Black middle-class.  He also praised the ideas of school choice and charter schools.  Charter schools have shown levels of success but at whose expense?  Instead of corporatizing individual schools, provide the proper funding and resources so the entire school system and all children in the system benefit.

With all of this being said, in spite of the empty rhetoric and lack of specific details on how he will actually implement policies that result in substantive progress, at least Romney showed up.  Unlike President Obama, Romney did not send a surrogate.  Whatever his intentions were Mitt Romney spoke to the NAACP, was applauded in some instances, booed in others, stated his case and moved on.

President Obama missed an incredible opportunity.  He probably feared that speaking to the premier national civil rights organization would allow his detractors to claim he’s “too Black”.

What the President and his advisors failed to see was the opportunity to tie so many of his recent policy successes together in one place.  The NAACP, the Civil Rights Movement, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act have been the foundation of equal rights for all Americans.  His support for same-sex marriage and the national movement to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” came out of the efforts of the NAACP as the champion of civil rights for everyone.  His executive order in support of the “Dream Act” and the movement for comprehensive immigration reform came out the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement.  Support for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and equal pay for women came out of the efforts of the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement.

When President Obama expressed his support for same-sex marriage it was NAACP President Ben Jealous who went out on a limb and provided cover for President Obama.  Jealous, speaking on behalf of the NAACP said, “Our calling as an organization is to defend the Constitution…We are here to speak to matters of civil law and matters of civil rights…”  President Obama missed an incredible opportunity.

At the NAACP convention Mitt Romney played to his base not his audience. Why does President Obama continue to ignore his?

Dr. Wilmer Leon is a political scientist at Howard University and host of the nationally broadcast call in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon” on Sirius/XM channel 128.’s Prescription @ or

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