Yesterday, I noted the tremendous distrust between Republicans and the African American community, exemplified by the “boos” Mitt Romney received for promising to repeal Obamacare at the NAACP national conference. Given the last three years of racially-tinged attacks on President Obama, there wasn’t much Romney could do to repair the damage. Indeed, at The Prospect, I wrote that the speech was actually aimed at white moderates, and not African Americans. But that doesn’t preclude good faith, and I assumed a certain amount of sincerity in Romney’s appearance.
If his comments last night were any indication, that was a mistake.
[I] want people to know what I stand for and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine. But I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff.
Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczinski points out that this is a standard part of Romney’s stump speech. Even still, it was specifically deployed to criticize the audience at the NAACP conference. And in the context of stereotypes about African Americans — that are “dependent” on government benefits and actively seek more — it’s more than a little objectionable. Romney followed this with an appearance on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News show, where he said he “expected” the negative response from the audience.
Earlier this year, when he was still running for president, Newt Gingrich declared that he would go to the NAACP and tell “the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” In much the same way, Romney went to the NAACP to make a statement for his right-wing supporters. For people who see Obamacare as a vehicle for reparations, Romney’s speech was a statement of courage — he essentially told a (middle-class, professional) audience of blacks that they’ll have to work for their benefits if he’s president. Rush Limbaugh certainly got the message:
This group wants to hear about tax increases and bigger government to take care of people. They don’t want to hear about self-reliance; they don’t want to hear about free enterprise. Free enterprise means you’ve gotta do it yourself. Free enterprise means it’s up to you. Free enterprise means you’re on your own. This group doesn’t want to hear that. I don’t think Romney got a single vote in here today.
[Obama was] confident they’ll boo Romney, simply ‘cause Romney’s white.
Far from a good faith effort to appeal to fellow citizens, it was a cynical exercise in pandering. And the message was received by the right people.