As we approach the November election less than four months away, Mitt Romney is being praised by some (his supporters) and criticized by others (President Obama's supporters ) for his speech to the NAACP.
Anyone who pays attention to politics knew that it would be this way. If he didn't speak to the NAACP, Romney would have been roundly criticized for showing disrespect to the NAACP. Now that he has spoken to the NAACP, he is being criticized for doing it only for political reasons as a cynical ploy to gain more support from racial minorities and independent voters. Whatever Romney did in this case, he would be damned for speaking to the NAACP or damned if he did not. This sort of Catch-22 is typical in politics for Republicans or Democrats.
In the speech given Wednesday, Romney said his interest was to represent all Americans of every race, creed, or sexual orientation, from the poorest to the richest and everyone in between:
"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."
From after the Civil War to the early 20th century, most African Americans voted Republican, due to President Abraham Lincoln. Factcheck.org points out that Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president, and that white politicians who governed Southern states in those days were Democrats. In fact, it wasn’t until 1924 that African Americans could attend Democratic conventions. From 1936 to today, however, most African Americans have voted for Democrats. Percentages ranged from 71% in 1936 for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to 88% in 2004 for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. In the 2008 election, the Pew Research Center says that 95% of African-American voters chose Obama for president.
While it was wise for Romney to speak to the NAACP, it would be naive to think his speech will do much to increase support from African Americans for Romney or Republicans on November 6. Indeed, there is nothing in recent history to suggest the speech will make any difference at all. So what happened since 1936 that has caused the party of Abraham Lincoln to do so poorly with African American voters?
There are several reasons, but to boil it down in simple terms, Democrats have reached out to the African American community successfully and Republicans have not. Romney said in his speech that, "The opposition charges that I and people in my party are running for office to help the rich. Nonsense." Well, that is what Romney's opponents in the Democratic Party, including African Americans, believe.
Romney was loudly booed by the NAACP audience when he said that, "I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like Obamacare." The GOP is seen by most African Americans as a party representing the interests of high-income voters, a party that opposes helping the poor, a party that wants to deny healthcare to people who cannot afford it, and a party that wants to make it harder for people to vote.
I am not suggesting that the only way Governor Romney or Republicans can gain more support from African Americans or other minorities on November 6 is to be more like Democrats on the issues; that would be understandably regarded as a cynical political ploy to get more votes and would not be successful. I am suggesting that if the GOP does want to get more support, it will only come through genuine and consistent outreach and dialogue, as well as solutions that offer hope for those who are struggling. Speeches alone will not get it done.